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Learned helplessness, self-worth protection and attributional retraining for primary school children

Craske, Marie-Louise 1989 , 'Learned helplessness, self-worth protection and attributional retraining for primary school children', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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This series of three studies examines the effectiveness
of an attributional retraining program for primary school
children, whose performance is detrimentally affected by

One explanation for impaired performances after failure
suggests that students who attribute lack of success to
inability become academically helpless. This approach,
with its roots in learned helplessness theory and Weiner's
theory of achievement motivation, predicts a 'successful outcome
from attributtonal retraining programs which
encourage students to attribute academic successes and
failures to the presence or absence of effort.

A second explanation suggests that some students
perform more poorly after failure because they 'give up' in
order to protect a sense of self-worth. This is threatened
when failure occurs in conjunction with high levels of
effort. It is predicted that effort attributional
retraining will not influence the performance of students
motivated by such considerations.

The first experiment aimed to improve the persistence
of Grade 5 and 6 children who displayed helpless behaviour
on a puzzle completion task. Attributional retraining
involved observation of a model who was rewarded for
attributing outcomes to effort. At post-testing, increased
persistence was found in female, but not male subjects. One
possible explanation for the sex difference is that the
males were not helpless but were motivated to protect selfworth
and were therefore not willing to expend effort when
failure was likely.
In the second experiment, the effectiveness of training
was compared for two groups of upper primary school children
identified as either helpless or self-worth motivated.
Before training both groups showed impaired performance
after failure on an arithmetic task. In addition, the
latter group demonstrated an improvement in performance in
response to a mitigating circumstance, (a description of the
task as 'very difficult'), which could explain failure
without implicating low ability as the cause. As predicted,
effort attributional retraining, this time using a
participant modelling technique, innoculated the helpless
group against failure, and resulted in an increased emphasis
on effort and decreased emphasis on ability in accounting
for failures. In the self-worth group, there was no change

in performance after failure or in ability attributions
after training, although there was an increased emphasis on
The effectiveness of the participant modelling
procedure was further established in a third experiment, in
which helpless students again appeared to be innoculated
against failure. This effect was maintained over a two
week post-training period, and there is some evidence that
Improved performance generalised to an anagram task.
The results are discussed in terms of the effective
components of attributional retraining programs, and
implications for the alternative explanations for impaired
performance after failure.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Craske, Marie-Louise
Keywords: Motivation in education, Achievement motivation in children, Attribution (Social psychology) in children
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1989 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Bibliography: leaves 192-216. Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1990

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