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ENHANCING ACHIEVEMENT MOTIVATION AND PERFORMANCE IN COLLEGE STUDENTS: AN ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING PERSPECTIVE
Raymond P. Perry, Frank J. Hechter, Verena H. Menec, and Leah E. Weinberg
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Academic performance in higher education ultimately involves a complex interplay of student attributes and the educational environment. Although instruction is regarded as the major environmental factor affecting scholastic success, other factors can become more important when teaching does not produce the desired results. Attributional retraining is one alternative that shows considerable promise for enhancing students' motivation and achievement stdving by changing how students think about their successes and failures. This paper reviews attdbutional retraining studies published since 1985 having a higher education focus. Their conceptual and methodological strengths and weaknesses are discussed in relation to Weiner's attribution theory. Within this context, attributional retraining is presented as a potentially viable and important intervention for improving college students' academic development, especially those students deemed to be at risk. In particular, attdbutional retraining is considered as an adjunct to, and possible aspect of, effective teaching.
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Scholastic achievement in higher education is recognized as a complex interplay of student abilities and the educational environment. In this regard instruction is seen as a key environmental factor affecting students' success, with accumulating empirical evidence from field and laboratory studies beginning to verify its muitiple benefits (Feldman, 1989; Marsh and Dunkin, 1992; Murray, 1991). Unfortunately, effective teaching does not have universally positive results for all students. Recent research suggests that some students perforrn poorly despite high-quality instruction (Perry, 1991). Students who believe they have little control over their academic achievement perform no better following a lecture from an effective, compared to an ineffective, instructor. Thus, the Address correspondence to: Raymond P. Perry, Centre for Higher Education Research and Development, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3T 2N2. Support for this research was provided to Raymond P. Perry by Franz E. Weinert, Max Planck Institute, Munich, and by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (#41091-1296). The junior authors contributed equally to the article and are listed alphabetically.
0361-0365/93/1200-0687507.00/0 © 1993 Human Sciences Press. Inc.
PERRY, HECHTER,MENEC,AND WEINBERG
typical pattern of low motivation, negative affect, and poor performance, characteristic of helpless orat-risk college students, may occur even in the presence of high-quality teaching. Under these circumstances other options are called for. Typically, most colleges provide a variety of alternatives to assist students, ranging from formal, well-established interventions such as counseling services, time management courses, and written skills programs, to more informal, less-structured options consisting of peer advising, study groups, etc. One alternative that appears to have considerable potential to aid college students, particularly those at-risk, is attributional retraining, a recent development in the psychological literature (Weiner, 1979). A meta-analysis of generic programs intended to help at-risk students reveals small but significant improvements in those receiving interventions versus those who did not have any treatment (Kulik, Kulik, and Shwalb, 1983). With its recent origins, it is unlikely that attributional retraining would have been part of those generic programs, raising the possibility that, being a theoretically derived and empirically based intervention, it would have stronger effects. Applied to academic settings, attributional retraining is designed to enhance student motivation and achievement striving by changing how students think about their successes and failures. Like effective teaching, it shares a common objective in seeking to modify cognitive, affective, and motivational processes responsible for students' scholastic performance. The purpose of this article is to critically review the empirical literature on attributional retraining in higher education that has emerged since 1985. Empirical studies were identified by a computer-assisted search of educational research journals using the Social Sciences Citation lndex (SSCI) and the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC). Published programs of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting were also reviewed since 1985. To a large extent, this research can be framed within the eontext of Weiner's attribution theory (1986), and for this reason, as well as the theory's suitability for the college classroom, the review will feature his model. For more general research on attributional retraining published prior to 1985, the reader is referred to comprehensive reviews by Försterling (1985) and Weiher (1986). The review is comprised of four sections, the first providing an overview of attribution theory and a brief description of attributional retraining. The second presents specific studies, and the third section discusses the critical conceptual issues and recurring methodological flaws extant in the literature. The final one offers some general conclusions about attributional retraining and its implications for the college classroom.
ATTRIBUTION THEORY AND ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING
Attributional retraining is rooted in attribution theory, originally introduced by Heider (1958) to account for how people perceive and interpret their social
environment. Attribution theory implies that people have a need to make sense of their world and that making sense of it has a functional value: it improves their chances of survival. Attributing a successful performance on a college entrance exam to ability, for exampte, has markedly different implications for a student's academic development than believing that luck was the reason for success. Subsequent research by Kelley (1967, 1972), Jones and Davis (1965), Weiner (1972, 1979), and others (see Ross and Fletcher, 1985, for a review) has led to further development of Heider's original thesis. Weiner (1979, 1986) has proposed one account that is particularly well suited for studying the college classroom because of its primary emphasis on achievement motivation and performance. According to his theory, people routinely seek to explain outcomes and events in their environment, particularly those which are novel, important, or negative. The explanations, or causal attributions, generated by this casual search process have a direct impact on subsequent cognitions, emotions, and behaviors. Weiner proposes a three-dimension taxonomy for classifying all attributions. Specifically, a locus of causality dimension describes causes within (e.g., aptitude) or outside (e.g., chance) the person; a stability dimension refers to causes that are either stable (e.g., industriousness) or unstable (e.g., fatigue), and a controllability dimension indicates whether the cause can be influenced by the person (e.g., laziness versus economic recession). These three dimensions form a locus by stability by controllability taxonomy that can be used to classify any attribution resulting from the causal search process, in its simplest configuration, the taxonomy can be thought of as a locus (internal, external) by stability (unstable, stable) by controllability (uncontrollable, controllable) 2 x 2 z 2 factorial, although Weiner maintains, in fact, that each dimension is a continuum and not a dichotomy. By adopting the simple 2 x 2 x 2 factorial, any causal attribution can be construed as "fitting into" a cell in the taxonomy. For example, math aptitude would fall within the internal, stable, and uncontrollable cell, whereas fate would be located within the external, unstable, and uncontrollable cell. (See Weiner, 1985, 1986, for a discussion of other possible dimensions.) These dimensional properties of causal attributions determine a person's subsequent cognitive, affective, and motivational reactions. Specifically, the stability dimension influences future expectations: a stable attribution (e.g., aptitude) about an outcome implies that it is more likely to reoccur than an unstable attribution (e.g., chance). Moreover, each of the three dimensions influence specific emotions which, in combination with expectations generated by the stability dimension, lead to motivated behavior. The locus dimension can induce feelings of pride if an internal attribution (e.g., aptitude) is made for success, but feelings of gratitude if an external attribution (e.g., instruction) was the explanation. Thus, the unique locus, stability, and controllability properties of an attribution have the capacity to substantially alter a person's motivation
unstable. Suppose a student faiis an impoaant test and. Because ability is typically considered an internal. Weiner's theory. would create less emotional arousal. it involves a broad range of cognitive. and it offers a strong con- . sadness. Similar to a lack of ability attribution. of critical processes. and controllable attributions. the student would regard himself/herself as personaily responsible for the negative outcome and would experience embarrassment. Thus. in seeking an appropriate explanation.690 PERRY. be less harmful to a student's self-esteem. but it would be far less harmful. such as luck or task difficulty. whereas mastery is more probable from a lack of effort attribution (unstable/controllable factor) for failure. These negative emotions would make the course much less attractive to the student and lead to avoidance. affective. offers possibilities for a precise analysis of salient variables. assuming lack of ability is a stable cause. Such affect-expectancy combinations have been implicated in learned helplessness in the college classroom (Perry and Dickens. because the student feels responsible for the poor performance. and uncontrollable cause. This stability/controllability difference between ability and effort lies at the heart of helpless and mastery orientations to academic achievement. helplessness is more likely to result from a lack of ability attribution (stable/uncontrollable factor) for failure. a lack of effort attribution would generate negative affect. Shame is less likely. it features a well-articulated causal model in which the various elements are explicitly linked. internal. and be less likely to generate helplessness. such as effort. Coupled with high expectations of continued failure. several major advantages are attained with this approach: it focuses on achievement. 1984). and helplessness-related emotions infrequent. attributes the poor performance to lack of ability. External attributions. depression. affect. lowered self-esteem less probable. A more complete account of this model is provided elsewhere (Weiner. AND WEINBERG and behavior regarding future outcomes and events. the student may not feel good about the course. but will strive to do bettet. Thus. As such. Although both are internal attributions. HECHTER. and achievement in explicit detail and specifies causal linkages between them. stable. and motivational consequences. The theory describes attribution. lowered self-esteem. 1986). The theory's utility becomes paCicularly apparent when applied to specific achievement episodes. and in extreme cases. More importantly. these negative emotions would undermine the student's motivation to succeed. In contrast. 1985. This suggests an optimistic scenario in which failure resulting from lack of effort can be changed to success by trying hard next time. thereby jeopardizing future performance and continuation in the course. and of sequential associations. applied to the college classroom setting. expectation. MENEC. expectations about future performance would be much more positive because lack of effort is an unstable and controllable cause and can be modified. would have very different academic consequences. motivation.
Consequently. his theory provides a rational model within which to understand attributional retraining effects and from which to develop remedial training programs. have used different attributions. Forfailure outcomes. Motivation and goal striving should increase.ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING 691 ceptual framework for predicting achievement motivation and perforrnance (Perry. reading comprehension. to promote expectations that existing. negative circumstances can be altered. 1988) provide comprehensive reviews of the general attributional retraining literature in both academic and clinical settings. Attributional Retraining Attributional retraining comprises a set of procedures generally intended to restructure a person's explanations about events in his/her surrounding environment. For success outcomes. Because it is assumed that attributions influence behavior through intervening expectations and affects. unstable attributions. must be replaced with internal. Its primary purpose is to change maladaptive attributions to ones that enable better adjustment to the environment. Initially. Within the academic achievement domain. even following failure. Because maladaptive attributions for failure are likely to be more incapacitating than maladaptive attributions for success. 1991 ).g. more stable attributions. from lack of ability to lack of effort. the intervention entails changing stable to unstabie attributions.. 1988) and Weiner (1986. Theoretically. Thus. visual discrimination. causing the student to tackle the achievement task rather than avoid it. altering existing attributions or introducing new ones should result in dysfunctional behaviors being replaced with more adaptive ortes. it deals specifically with causal attributions pertaining to either achievement or affiliative (social) settings. researchers tried to replace maladaptive attributions for failure with a lack of effort attribution. thereby encouraging expectations of continued success. attributional retraining has primarily been linked to mastering specific activities related to arithmetic problem solving. and others suggesting attributions to strategy (Curtis and Graham. e. Derived from attribution theory. 1990). with Weiner (1988) advocating bad luck and excessive task difficulty as alternatives. maladaptive cognitions may include attributing . the empirical literature has tended to focus on failure experiences. Specific methods for changing undesirable attributions for success and failure to more desirable ones (see Figure 1) are described by Försterling (1985). and general scholastic performance. such as good luck. Försterling (1985. external. such as high ability. motivation and goal striving should increase. enabling the student to persist at the task rather than quit. More recent studies. however.
Evidence of dysfunctional behaviors could include boredom. either to prevent or remediate .692 PERRY. Accordingly.. ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING IN HIGHER EDUCATION Much of the research on attributional retraining has focused on school children. and missing classes. not handing in assignments. Attributional retraining programs replace these maladaptive attributions with high ability for success. or inflated grading standards. lack o f ~ debilitating emotions ~ ability (e.. with relatively fewer studies done on college students. apathy.. or others equally suitable. guilt) or lack of ~ persistence.g. the altered attribution should produce the necessary emotional and expectancy changes needed to facilitate subsequent motivation and achievement striving. avoidance of achievement tasks DESIRABLE Success • high . Desirable and undesirable attributions for success and failure (from Försterling (1985).~ effort motivating emotions (e. Although many issues remain to be addressed. avoiding homework..) success to luck.g. Försterling (1985) was sufficiently impressed by existing empirical evidence to conclude "that attributional retraining methods have been consistently successful in increasing persistence and performance" (p. are the same. HECHTER. AND WEINBERG UNDESlRABLE success luck • lack of emotional incentive (i. lack of effort for failure. positive esteem-related emotions (e. minimally increased expectancies of success lack of approach towards achievement tasks failure . attention deficits. maintenance of relatively high expectancies of success FIG. Reprinted by permission. ability approach t o w a r d s achievement tasks increased expectancies failure . MENEC. lack o f .. and failure to lack of ability.. an easy test. The objectives in higher education. hearing impairment. approach towards achievement tasks debilitating affects. 1. nevertheless. feelings of incompetence and depression) decreased expectancies of success lack of persistence. or prejudice of the marker.. 509). pride) ..g.. Copyright (1985) by the American Psychological Association. indifference).e.
see Table 1). and were less likely to leave college by the end of their sophomore year. Most of the studies that have followed Wilson and Linville have generally used similar experimental procedures. such as discussion or strategy training. Wilson and Linville (1982) modified the stability of students' attributions. 1975). and laboratory experiments featuring a college classroom analog. uncontrollable causes.ATFRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING 693 negative causal ascriptions that lead to impaired scholastic performance. rarely through multiple exposures. This section provides a review of the relevant literature and summarizes the empirical studies in Table I. attributional retraining techniques and methods. Typically. Specifically. performed better on a dependent measure involving Graduate Record Exam items. These findings agree . after which students are tested on related tasks to determine the program's effectiveness. attributional retraining supplemented by other techniques. tlaen according to Weiner's theory (1986. Although no single approach has guided these studies. The next section. had higher GPA scores one year after training. first-year students who exhibit some maladaptive cognition or behavior affecting their scholastic performance are the largest population. The students were tben shown videotaped interviews of upper-class students in which they described their academic experiences in college. The pioneering contribution to this literature was a field study undertaken by Wilson and Linville (1982. although other techniques have been used with noncollege subjects. The appropriate attribution is typically presented either by directly informing the students or by modeling the attribution in a structured interview. presents a critique of the studies in terms of subject selection. The induction usually occurs during a single episode. Conceptual and Methodological Constraints. compared to those who did not. and increased motivation and mastery strivings. emphasizing their own improvement as they progressed to their senior year. they informed the students that grades are generally lower in the first year and improve in the upper-class years. several common themes have emerged: quasi-experimental field studies done in the actual classroom. rather than changing attributions for failure from lack of ability to lack of effort (Dweck. Students who received the attributional retraining. Thus. The remainder of this review will focus on retraining studies at the college level. A common assumption underlying these studies is that if students could be "inoculated" against negative attributions for academic difficulties in their first year. The attribution-change program was designed to alter students' expectancies about future success and to reduce negative affect about their current academic performance. The majority of attributional retraining studies reported in Table 1 have several features in common. see also Figure 1) it would produce an increased expectancy of success. and outcome measures. First-year students who were experiencing failure or performing below their expectations were deemed to be at risk. as a result of making attributions for their performance to stable.
lndividual attributional retraining similar to 1982 study. GPA of both first and second semester of second year university. about performance b) expectations of future performance and c) mood. 2. Wilson & Linville Study 1: con(1985) ducted in second semester. b) academic performance < ability.50 and 2. Similar to 1982 study except that short term measures were administered one time only immediately after attributional retraining intervention.AND WEINBERG TABLE 1.MENEC. Long term: GPA scores with first semester GPA as baseline I. c) intellectual comparison with classmate peers not greater than average. self report of: a) worry about academic performance > median.694 PERRY. lndividual attribu.and temporary partment subject causes.Short term: tional retraining 1. Subject selection based on: I. pool. GPA in second semester of first year. Summarv ofresults: 1) reduction in withdrawal from university. Attributional Retraining Studies Attributional Retraining Technique and Methods Study Subject Selection Attribution Change Outcome Measures Wilson & Linville First year students Stable to unstable (1982) in psychology de.00) and Stable to unstable and temporary causes (both replications). self-reported written statistical questiondata or videonaires retaped interviews garding: with senior stua) attitudes dents. 2) increase in GPA one year after intervention and 3) increase performance in GRE-type items. Ist semester GPA < 3. Reading with experimenter comprehenin a single session sion test (6 consisting of GRE-type GPA information items) provided through 2. . HECHTER. first semester GPA < median (3. Selection based on meeting ALL following criteria: 1.
and.ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING 2. Stable. self-reported worry about academic performance > 5 on 7-point Likert scale (median = 5. Short term: Same as 1982 study but with expanded reading comprehension test (13 GRE-type items).4). GPA information provided through statistical data and videötaped interviews of upper class students indicating that grades are often low in first year but improve in succeeding years. Likelihood of Engaging in Stndious Activities Scale (LESA). Blaming Stable Factors (BSF) and Blaming Unstable Factors (BUF) for test failure.01 ). subjects selected from introductory psychology students based on self-reported: 1. worry about academic performance > 6 on 9-point Likert scale (median = 7. Study 2: conducted in first semester. written and four two minute videotaped interviews with senior stndents who indicated that grades improve after first year. 695 Same as Replication I. Long term: Second semester GPA scores compared with first semester GPA as baseline. a take home Interpersonal Sup- . controllable causes. imagined scenarios of four Short term: Manipulation checks with scales assessing: beliefs in stable or unstable causes for success or failure and expectations for future academic performance.6 students. midterm exam results < median (3. In addition.02) and 2. GPA information supplied with in vivo. Single in class session early in first semester in groups of 6-29 students consisting of: I. uncontrollable to unstable. 2. Single session in groups of 4 . Authors note that no selective admission criteria in place at this university. treatment subjects were asked to write an essay identifying reasons tbr their academic performance. Summary of results: Increase in performance on GRE-type items and increase in grades in following sernester. Jesse & Gregory (1986-87) All first year university students enrolled in introductory psychology course.
changing from poor in first semester to satisfactory in later semesters. fourth. Long term: 1.696 PERRY. Forsyth. They initially blamed external factors. Reading comprehension test (6 GRE-type items) given 8 weeks after intervention. HECHTER. uncontrollable causes for failure to intemal and controllable. bad teachers. Assigned to either a training or control condition. e. GPA unstable. attributional retraining with two written case histories of first year students indicating causes of academic success and failure were under students' control. From external. They noted their GPAs were poor initially but improved in later semesters. Study Subject Selection Attribution Change Outcome Measures port Evaluation List (ISEL) questionnarie. & Kelley (1987) First-year introductory psychology students who received either a D or an F on the first two exams in the course. Single-session attributional retraining involving videotape of two seniors giving reasons for their academic performance. MENEC. . Attributions for test pefformance obtained after first test and prior to the final test. However. Noel. (Continued) Attributional Retraining Technique and Methods specific behavior strategies linked to academic performance and. 2. those students receiving both attributional retraining and GPA information did not benefit as much as those who received GPA information only. AND WEINBERG T A B L E 1. and final (cumulative) tests.g. for their failures.. difficult tests. Grades on the third. Summa~v of results: Those students who received GPA information maintained stable GPA scores in Fall and Spring semesters while those not receiving GPA information experienced a decline in GPA in Spring semester. but now knew that effort. GPA scores for Spring and Fall semesters with American College Test (ACT) and index of social support as covariates.
Long term: I. Students were then asked to indicate in written form the important information provided in the videotapes and their reaction. and controllable causes.ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING study habits. Segebarth. 697 Summarv of results: Attributional retraining produced higher test performance and final grades. subjects received a written summary of the points made previously. Final exams in all courses were covaried with first term theory and exercise economics exam scores. Van Overwalle. Short term: End of second term theory and exercise economics exam scores were covaried with first semester results. enduring and uncontrollabie causes to unstable. Van Overwalle and De Metsenarere (1990) Study I: conStudy 1: Stable ducted in second and uncontrollasemester.bie to unstable Studv 1: Single Studv I: in-class group Final score on session of approx. Those students with a score < or = 4 out ot 20 in both theory and exercise exams were excluded. Single in-class group procedure of approximately 45 minutes consisting of: a 13 minute videotape of 4 upper class students discussing causes of academic success and failure in first year followed by a videotape of a psychology professor talking about benefits of a study strategy program emphasizing effort attributions for success. transient. Stable. and Goldchstein (1989) First year university students enrolled in second semester economics course who failed first semester theory and exercise economics exam. number of students passing first year Summary of resuhs: Higher scores in second semester economics exam as weil as all final exams were recorded for students receiving attributional retraining. all first. and 2. Following the videotape.eeonomies exam . This was folIowed by a five minute group discussion. Also led to modest attribution changes at end of course. and help-seeking were more responsible for performance.
Stable.Three intervention lable causes to conditions: unstable. Outcome Measures at end of second semester with first semester score as covariate. (same as study I). 3. a 2-minute videotape of a psychology professor who stressed effort and personal responsibility while discussing benefits of a remedial learning program. uncontrol. Attributional rary. Study 2: Studv 2: Stuc(v 2: Final exam score in History of Law course with firstsemester score as covariate. average score on all final exams. MENEC. Generalized effects: I. student passing rate on economics exam. AND WEINBERG T A B L E 1. 2. tempoI. (Continued) Attributional Retraining Technique and Methods imately 50-minute duration consisting of: 1. Attribution Change and controllable causes. a 13-minute videotape of interviews with 5 senior economics students who related their difficulties in first year and causes of success and failure for their academic performance followed by 2. HECHTER. 3. . students then individua!ly wrote about and then discussed as a group the causes for academic success and failure. Study Subject Selection year university students enrolled in introductory economics course. and controlretraining lable causes.698 PERRY. failure rate on final exams Studv 2: All first-year university students enrolled in firstyear law.
intemal/exvideotaped ternal locus lecture. Expressive instruction also enhanced external. reading comprehension. < 27% on postlecture achievement test. 10-item multimeasure ple choice (MMCS).10 and 2. GPA < 2. and study course material. namely. 30-item multistudents in a simple choice ulated classroom achievement setting. Exclusion criteria: 1. and 2. 3. Combination of attributional retraining and study strategy of approximately 110 minutes duration. Perry & Penner (1990) Volunteer university students enrolled in introductory psychology course who received credit toward course requirements. achievement timed aptitest based on tude test homework asfollowed by signment. Summarv of results. on both the postlecture test and the homework test.ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING 699 Generalized ef2. an 8-minute 3. but not internal. In study 2 attributional retraining again increased the number of students passing their final examinations compared to controls. of control 2. chology professor. time management. Summary of results: Attributional retraining improved the performance of external. test based on I. students' pefformance on both tests. ln-class study fects: similar to strategy of apstudy I. Stable to unstable causal attributions (effort and ability as unstable). In study 1 a greater number of students who received attributional retraining passed their final examinations compared to control students. proximately 60 minutes consisting of 3 sections. students. but not intemal. Groups of 15-25 1. Causal attribucolor attritions using butional reRussell's training (1982) Causal videotape of Dimension a male psyScale (CDS). Cavanaugh (1991) Students enrolled in a developmenNot indicated Attributional rePre/post tests on training combined two passages in- . but study strategies had no effect.
training. students ple-choice were given a preachievement lecture achievetest based on ment test and half-hour vidshown either eotaped lecnone. Summary of results: Combined attributional training and strategy was not superior to strategy alone condition. The graduate student indicated that changing attributions improved performance in . Students assigned to orte of three groups: text comprehension Study Subject Selection tal program in a junior college with a below-average reading level. prelecture achievement test used to classify students into failure and success groups. 8-minute video2. MENEC. control. Menec. Attribution Change Outcome Measures volving a free recall task and a multiple-choice short-answer comprehension test. grade in psyExperiences inchology cluded: failure at course. Study ! Change attributions for failure to lack of effort and inappropriate strategies. Hechter & Eichholz (1992) Study 1 Volunteer firstyear introductory psychology students who received credit toward course requirement. Perry. with text comprehension strategies. or two ture. Both training groups performed better on recall and short-answer tests than control group. posttest. strategies. (Continued) Attributional Retraining Technique and Methods with text comprehension strategies. HECHTER. Study 1 Study 1 In a three-session 1. Expectations tapes. Three phases included pretest. 30-item multistudy. and failure attaining scholarships.Pre/post attributional retraining tion measures. depicting a concerning graduate student grade on next relating personal psychology or a friend's failtest and final ure experiences. Schönwetter. Struthers. attribu. one.700 PERRY. AND WEINBERG TABLE 1. failure in piano performance. an academic test. No difference in attributions for any group.
ences in either an 3. or two test including: 6-minute attribuability. and increased expectations concerning the next psychology test and final grade in the psychology course for both externals and intemals. Again. attributional retraining enhanced performance on the achievement test for extemal. 30-item multiheld one week ple-choice apart. Only subjects who performed at or below the median on a prelecture achievement test were included. test diffitapes showed two culty. Attributions nal/extemal locus concerning of control meaperformance sure (MMCS).ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING the future. students discussand the proing failure experifessor. on the and viewed either achievement none. Sessions were held at one-week intervals. Multiple attributional retraining sessions did not improve achievement as compared to a single attributional retraining session. one. effort. Single group application to 2530 students in a 1. when combined with effective instruction. Study 2 Study 2 In three sessions. but not internal. Prelecture test questionnaire assessing: stu- . Perry & Magnusson (1989a) 2 Volunteer firstyear introductory psychology stuThree attribution conditions induced: ability. Attributional retraining also induced a more internal attribution profile in extemals. Summary ofresuhs: In Study I. lecture.2. Study 2 Change attributions for failure to lack of effort and inappropriate strategies. A psychology professor then summarized the most important points of their discussion. In Study 2. luck. locus students. Expectations academic achieveconcerning ment or sports performance domain. students achievement wrote a prelecture test based on achievement test. They on next psynoted that by chology test changing attribuand final grade tions their perforin psychology mance had course. but only when combined with effective instruction. I. improved considerably. The welt. students divided into internal and extemal locus of control groups. attributional retraining enhanced performance on the achievement test for students who had performed poorly (below the median) on the prelecture achievement test. these effects were found only when students also received effective instruction. filled out an inter. tional retraining desire to do videotapes. 701 Studv 2 Volunteer firstyear introductory psychology students who received credit toward course requirement.
effort. the quality of instruction appears to compensate for the detrimental effects of some causal attributions. prelecture test with no feedback. simulated college classroom. 3. dents who reeffort. depending on the quality of instruction.See Perry and plication to 25Magnusson 30 students in a (1989a). toward course requirement. Summary of results: Causal attributions differentially affected postlecture achievement and control. or test difficulty for performance on the prelecture test. or test ceived credit difficulty. . perceived control over aptitude test performance and perceived performance. dents received credit toward course requirement. Multiplechoice achievement test based on videotaped leeture. MENEC. 2. Summary of results: Causal attributions influenced postlecture and achievement differentially. Study Subject Selection Attribution Change Outcome Measures dents' reaction to their performance in relation to ability.702 PERRY. or task difficulty for performance on a prelecture test with failure feedback. Perry & Magnusson (1989b) 2 Volunteer firstSee Perry and year introductory Magnusson psychology stu(1989a). written attribution induction to ability. effort. (Continued) Attributional Retraining Technique and Methods simulated college classroom. written attribution induction to ability. in addition. Postlecture attribution questionnaire to assess students' perceptions of their performance. divided into perceived success/ failure groups based on their perceived performance on a prelecture test. emotions. Single group ap. HECHTER. Students divided into distortion/nondistortion groups based on students' interpretation of noncontingent failure feedback on aptitude test. AND WEINBERG T A B L E 1.
test diffort. Postlecture questionnaire assessing students' subjective perceptions of their performance. Summary ofresults: The three attribution schemas influenced postlecture emotions. and potentially changeable. Three attribution conditions induced: ability. I. & Struthers (1993)2 Volunteer firstyear introductory psychology students received credit toward course requirement.ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING Perry. written mance in relaattribution induction to ability. 2. Attribution effects wem not evident in high-success students or when instruction was effective. causes should increase expectancies for future success. Effort and ability generated better performance in low-success students receiving ineffective instruction. Students divided into perceived success/ failure groups based on students' interpretation of noncontingent success feedback on prelecture test. tion to ability. The success o f the intervention was challenged by Block and L a n n i n g (1984). Block and L a n n i n g argued that students who dropped out had higher grade point averages than students who stayed in college. and performance. efeffort. Prelecture test questionnaire plication to 25assessing: stu30 students in a dents' reaction simulated college to their perforclassroom. Magnusson.I. or task ficulty. depending on prelecture perceived success and instruction. effort. three with success feedaffect-related back. motivation. 3. test perforprelecture test mance. Schönwetter. Multiplechoice achievement test based on videotaped lecture. heighten motivation. Studies listed in approximate chronological order. items. or task difficulty. however. with W e i n e r ' s theory in that c h a n g i n g attributions to unstable. 703 Single group ap. who questioned both the validity of W i l s o n and L i n v i l l e ' s measures and the strength o f the long-term results. and that the long-term G P A increase from the first semester in college to the second sophomore semester . This study used only elementary attributional retraining procedures. 2. and e n h a n c e a c h i e v e m e n t strivings. perdifficulty for perceived control formance on the over aptitude prelecture test.
the second. and Eichholz (1992). Using more rigorous laboratory controls. students were classified as having an internal or external locus of control orientation based on Lefcourt's MultidimensionalMultiattributional Causality Scale (1979). the videotape plus study-skill training. as well as verbal. and Goldchstein (1989) employed two training conditions. Relative to a no-treatment control group. however. students viewed videotaped interviews with senior students who described significant academic improvements after their first year. after the midterm exams (see Table 1). An attempted replication by Jesse and Gregory (1986-87). with unexpressive instruction regarded as ineffective and expressive instruction as effective (see Feldman. due primarily to fewer low scores. lack of experience. Schönwetter. for reviews). In comparison to a no-training control group. An earlier study by Van Overwalle. Again. but coupled videotaped information with an in vivo analysis of the causes of academic achievement. Perry and Penner (1990) also presented videotaped retraining to first-year psychology students. Wilson and Linville (1985) undertook two replications. written. this intervention was intended to persuade first-year students to change maladaptive causal attributions to unstable and modifiable or controilable explanations. Segebarth. Next. 1985. namely lack of effort. The lecture involved either effective or ineffective instruction. thereby enabling attributional retraining to be studied in relation to quality of teaching. Perry. Attribu- . Van Overwalle and De Metsenaere (1990) used a comparable field study approach. Hechter. To address these and other criticisms. attributional retraining increased the passing rate on final exams of all courses.704 PERRY. Struthers. failed to find any benefit for retraining (Table 1). An extension of this approach was undertaken by Menec. students' performance on two achievement tests based on the videotaped lecture and on homework study materials. one involving a videotape-only treatment and the other. one being almost identical to the 1982 study. Teaching effectiveness was defined in terms of instructor expressiveness. MENEC. College students received a 50-minute intervention in which the experimenter first discussed with students what they thought were causes of midterm exam performance. but not intemal. and then provided attributional information about their early academic failures. HECHTER. Perry. and videotaped information. introducing the intervention in the first instead of the second semester. Attributional retraining resulted in improvements of academic performance on an economics exam and increased exam session scores at the end of the year. and ineffective study strategies in their first year. 1989. Before the training session. one-time retraining intervention can have short-term and long-term benefits. providing similar attributional retraining using in vivo discussion. prior to a halfhour videotaped lecture. AND WEINBERG was of questionable reliability. The results of all three studies (1982 and the two 1985 replications) again led Wilson and Linville (1985) to conclude that a simple. attributional retraining improved external.
with students enrolled in a variety of disciplines.ATTRIBUTIONALRETRAINING 705 tional retraining facilitated performance increments for students who had experienced prior failure (Study 1) or who had an external locus (Study 2). all students enrolled in first-year law (Van Overwalle and De Metsenaere. it is important to determine which students are likely to benefit from attributional retraining. Given these differences in criteria for selecting subjects. engineering. a number of methodological and conceptual issues taust be addressed and these are discussed in this section. It is also worth noting that the effects appear to be relatively enduring. although it is recognized that attributional retraining can be applied to a variety of other settings. studies have typically included subjects wbo are most in need. other studies have no such criteria and include. one should keep in mind that the literature is not extensive. such as ability. yet the need for continued research to verify its benefits is also evident. and law courses. 1982). As can be seen from these examples and from Table 1. thereby preventing definitive conclusions from being reached. Table 1 reveals considerable variability in subject selection. namely subject selection. but inconsistencies remain. A closer consideration of these issues is provided in the following section. Student variables. registered in law. Subject Selection Since attributional retraining is intended to enhance motivation and. resulting from inclusionary or exclusionary criteria that are course or group specific. As well. increase performance and persistence. and have volunteered or been recruited/assigned to the respective study. some inconsistency in findings arises from the methodological features of the studies. and outcome measures. but only when it was coupled with effective instruction. Students have been enrolled in psychology courses. It is encouraging to note that the benefits of attributional retraining have been observed in both field and laboratory studies. are likely to moderate the effectiveness of a . retraining techniques. economics courses. In responding to that need. 1990). and general arts programs. While some studies include subjects in the retraining program on the basis of low GPA scores (Wilson and Linville. as a result. for example. have experienced failure or success in their academic program. the empirical evidence is promising. CONCEPTUAL AND METHODOLOGICAL CONSTRAINTS This review of the attributional retraining literature is limited to the college classroom. There is no disputing the potential benefits of interventions designed to enhance student motivation and achievement. However. creating problems of interpretation and raising issues for future research.
another critical factor to be taken into account is the importance that students place on their academic performance. whereas it was of little benefit to those having an internal locus. Perry and Penner. They also found attributional retraining aided students having an external locus of control. With the exception of Wilson and Linville's studies (1982. Menec et al. HECHTER. average.'s study. (1992) used performance on a prelecture test similar to the Graduate Record Exam (Perry and Dickens. medium. Segebarth. While these results suggest that attributional retraining is particularly useful for students who perform at. these students were unlikely to benefit from one brief attributional retraining intervention. The following sections classify subject selection criteria as either academic or nonacademic variables. 1989. Van Overwalle and De Metsenaere (1990) divided their sample into three groups--low. an important consideration is the magnitude of performance increments that can be anticipated. In this regard. In Menec et al. 1990). 1990. (1989) noted. MENEC. AND WEINBERG particular retraining technique. This question is critical since attributional retraining should presumably affect performance by raising overall academic grades.. Perry and Penner (1990) excluded students with very low grades and with poor performance because.706 PERRY. Experiment 2) showed that only students in the medium-ability group benefited from attributional retraining. Wilson and Linville.. or below. attributional retraining produced" performance increments only for students who had previously failed the GRE test. Research indicates that brief interventions produce at best a medium effect (e. Van Overwalle and De Metsenaere. 1992. 1985). 1984) as the criterion to divide subjects into success and failure groups. which included only those students who were concerned about their performance. Although marginal students may benefit the most from attributional retraining. but who were included regardless of their academic performance. Similarly. As Van Overwalle et al. Results of the Van Overwalle and De Metsenaere study (1990. 1985) or an increase in achievement scores of approximately 5 percent to 15 percent (Menec et al. with each discussed in turn. they argued. researchers have not attempted to isolate . 1990). Several researchers have compared the effectiveness of attributional retraining for students who were not preselected for ability. lndividual Differences: Academic Students' ability and the importance they place on their performance appear to be two critical academic variables moderating the effectiveness of attributional retraining. and Goldchstein.g. but not of such poor ability as to be unable to take advantage of the retraining program (see also Perry and Penner. the optimal candidates for attributional retraining therefore appear to be those students slightly below the passing grade level. and high ability--on the basis of their performance on a course pretest. Van Overwalle.
Furthermore. negative. that in order to maximize the benefit of attributional retraining at the postsecondary level. these variables and the mediating factors require further investigation. thus. or perceived failure. perhaps because it has been assumed tbat university students represent a homogeneous population. In accounting for their findings. He further indicates that cross-cultural data could "provide insights about the mechanisms that mediate disparate behavioral and emotional reactions across cultures" (p. Although Weiher (1986) asserts that the basic properties of causality are pancultural. but not those with an internal locus (Menec et al. whereas it only reinforced existing options for internal-locus students (ability and effort). it seems essential to differentiate students on this basis. Perry and Penner. However. such as SES. Perry and Penner maintained that attributional retraining introduced new causäl attributions (effort) to external-locus students. so that researchers would be advised to use more appropriate criteria. be a poor indicator for selecting subjects for retraining. According to Weiner's (1986) model. Clearly. attributional retraining would not be expected to improve the perforrnance of such a student. social and demographic variables. not experience any motivational deficits associated with poor performance. Although preliminary evidence has indicated that attributional retraining improved the perforrnance of male. such as importance. Individual Differences: Nonacademic Few researchers have investigated possible interactions between attributional retraining and nonacademic variables. or unexpected. Greater potential for change exists. a search for the cause of an event is initiated if the outcome is perceived as important. he acknowledges that the culture of the perceiver should influence specific causal ascriptions. the student who is content with a low grade might not engage in an attributional search and may. It would appear. 73). therefore. Since the importance of the outcome is integral to Weiner's theory of motivation. college students (Wilson and Linville. previous educational experiences. specifically the dramatic increase in parttime and older students from varying cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Academic variables should include not only students' ability but also the con- . The potential contribution of these and other nonacademic individual differences is particularly important in light of changes from the traditional population of university students in North America. concern about grades. have not been taken into consideration.ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING 707 the effects of this variable. 1992. and age.. 1990). subject selection criteria should be comprised of both academic and nonacademic individual differences variables. therefore. but not female. 1985). in external-locus students because they start with a greater attributional deficit. Low grades alone may. and for students with an external locus of control. therefore.
etc. Ad- .. attributional style. and therefore controllable attribute. Menec et al. with most having single-exposure interventions varying in duration from eight minutes (Perry and Penner. have been employed in studies with college students. enhances ability. operant methods/vicarious learning. However. Attributional Retraining Methods Regardless of subject selection. uncontrollable attribute. The videotape format allows administration of the training program to entire groups and provides a viable technique for large-scale remediation. discussions or writing essays about the causes of failure have supplemented the videotapes (Wilson and Linville. age. but may be very critical to increasing the benefits of attributional retraining. 1990). further enhancing its capacity to increase. 1990) to one hour (Van Overwalle and De Metsenaere. 1986-87).708 PERRY. In this connection Perry and Penner (1990) informed subjects that long-term effort. While attributional retraining studies with children typically involve multiple one-to-one interventions. found that multiple exposures did not produce performance increments relative to a single intervention. typically involving staged videotaped interviews with upper-class students and/or professors. cultural and educational backgrounds. AND WEINBERG cern and the importance that the individual student places on his academic performance. temporary. with each subject being individually trained by the experimenter. and may be thought of as a primary intervention procedure (see Jesse and Gregory. Ability was also described as having skill-like qualities. or experiencing severe motivational deficits. Nonacademic variables that have not been investigated extensively. while a single intervention may be sufficient for ayerage students. This implied that ability was also somewhat unstable and could increase through effort. Such a cost-effective remedial intervention might reasonably be provided to all firstyear students. However. Menec et al. an internal. would likely include gender. Replication 2. only informational methods. It is conceivable that repeated exposure may be beneficial only for students performing weil below average. Van Overwalle and De Metsenaere. Försterling (1985) suggests a taxonomy for attributional retraining methods that includes information. 1985. attributional retraining programs have concentrated on altering stable. and indirect communication. 1992). Surprisingly. possibly as part of an orientation program. uncontrollable causal attributions to unstable. The causal ascription of ability is generally thought to be a stable. MENEC. few studies have employed multiple sessions (but see Cavanaugh. Occasionally. unstable. studies with university students frequently use group interventions. and therefore some attributional retraining programs have focused on changing causal ascriptions from lack of ability to lack of effort. 1991. HECHTER. and controllable explanations. 1990).
Such short-term and long-term indices include GPA scores. Wiison and Linviile. A critical problem exists for some attributional retraining programs that stress increased effort as a means to successful academic performance. with these causal attributions being described as unstable and controllable. Failure is frequently attributed to lack of effort and inadequate study strategies. Therefore. including appropriate staffing and facilities. Because of this concern for achievement measures. researchers have frequently neglected to investigate the variables that mediate performance changes (Försterling. 1992. potentially with multiple exposures provided for those students at risk. 1985). which are determined by the causal structure underlying the attributions. and possibly under students' control. Additional research should consider alternate attributional retraining techniques. When an individual expends more effort and still does not achieve the desired outcome.. and effort. 1985). etc. motivated behavior is a function of both cognitions and affects. in combination with concerns associated with subject selection. 1982. Van Overwalle and De Metsenaere. at- . involving individual or small-group application. and drop-out rates. 1990). 1989). may enhance the efficacy of attributional retraining. According to Weiner's model. Van Overwalle et at.g. GRE-type tests are common to a number of studies (e. quality of instruction. varying the duration as weil as the frequency of the intervention. brief interventions can increase student achievement. Information that grades are generally low in the freshman year. The intervention programs have generally focused on the causal dimensions of stability and controllability. Outcome Measures Researchers have been interested primarily in improving academic achievement in college students using a variety of performance measures. This approach will necessarily require significant additionai resources. 1985). These issues. More will be said about the ethical implications of this issue in the final section of this review. Jesse and Gregory. temporary. 1986-87. self-concept of ability and expectancy for future success may decline (Covington and Omelich.. 1990. whereas success is attributed to ability. indirectly suggests that the causes of poor performance are in fact unstable.. but improve in the senior years (Wilson and Linville 1982. A number of studies therefore protect selfesteem by indicating that a combination of unstable and controllable causes can enhance future performance (Menec et al. 1985). or a week or more after the training (Perry and Penner. These outcome measures are usually administered immediately after the intervention (Wilson and Linville. Thus. proper study strategies. as weu as providing other explanations for failure such as test difficulty.ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING 709 ditional attributional retraining may be graduated. exam results. 1981). the existing literature indicates that single.
The lack of evidence for attributional changes in other studies may be due to methodological problems. which may account for their finding only minimal changes in causal ascriptions. A further critical issue appears to be whether general or task-specific attributions are measured. and Carr. Posttest-only comparisons between a treatment and control group usually do not provide an adequate assessment of any change in attributions produced by the training interventions. It might therefore be advantageous to assess explanations shortly after the retraining sessions. few studies have assessed students' attributions prior to the intervention by comparing pretraining and posttraining scores. desire to do well. This effect was found only for students with an external. The following sections provide a review of the various mediating and performance measures used in attributional retraining programs involving college students. 1988. students may not have concluded that their poor performance was due to inadequate study strategies. Effects are usually found for task-specific explanations. note taking. effort. Moreover. Attributions Few studies at the higher education level have demonstrated changes in attributions following attributional retraining. This is the case in Jesse and Gregory's (1986-87) study in which students were told that GPA improves over time. for positive resuits).). Weyhing. as did Menec et al. however. HECHTER. and luck than did those in the control group. locus of control. (1992). and consequently. Although attributional retraining is based on the premise that it will result in long-term attributional changes. AND WEINBERG tributional retraining studies should focus not only on changes in academic achievement but also on measures of such mediating variables. 1987. Dweck. Perry and Penner (1990) administered an attribution questionnaire one week following retraining. who showed that students receiving attributional retraining attributed their test performance more to their ability. some researchers have failed to consider subjects' perceptions of the specific attributional information provided during the intervention. whereas generalized perceptions of causal attributions are frequently not influenced by intervention programs (Borkowski. . 1975. (1992. For example. In contrast. but not those with an internal. Significant results were obtained by Menec et al. but see Reid and Borkowski. MENEC. poor study habits.g. Changes in attributions were not measured directly. etc. Given GPA information alone. These results indicate that attributional retraining induced a more internal attribution profile in external students. attributions invoked during the intervention are iikely more salient immediately following it.710 PERRY. Experiment 2).. but were inferred from questions pertaining to study strategies (e. they should not be expected to place greater emphasis on this cause after the intervention.
Several field experiments have further contributed to the literature by demonstrating the effectiveness of attributional retraining in an actuai college classroom. Försterling. found increases in achievement immediately after the lecture in students who had previously performed poorly on an achievement test. recent research has addressed criticisms of earlier performance measures (see Block and Lanning. studies have consistently shown performance increments following attributional retraining. The intervention improved performance on both the iecture and the homework test one week later for students with an external locus of control. Similarly. 1990). attributional retraining should lead to changes in expectations of future success. In sum.. Furthermore. attributional retraining appears to hold considerable promise for enhancing academic achievement in college students. Performance Measures Since Wilson and Linville's (1982) promising findings. The fact that the studies are reasonably sound methodologically rein- . Menec et al. found that students who received attributional retraining expected to be more successful on their next psychology test and expected a higher final grade in their psychology course.. Van Overwalle and De Metsenaere. However. global questions. For example. it appears important to use domainspecific expectancy measures. It is noteworthy that performance on the lecture and homework test in Perry and Penner's laboratory study reflects two types of learning activities encountered in the college classroom: the relatively passive learning that occurs with some forms of classroom instruction. other studies have been less successful in demonstrating expectancy changes. Moreover. In the Manitoba laboratory (Menec et al.. in contrast to activities initiated by the student outside the classroom.ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING 711 Expectations According to attribution theory. suggesting the potential for longlasting improvements. These effects were also obtained one week after the intervention was administered. 1992. Consistent with this assumption. Perry and Penner (1990) administered a second achievement test related to a homework assignment. Perry and Penner. 1989. 1985) by using more specific and ecologically valid measures. These studies show that attributional retraining improved students' performance on an examination (Van Overwalle et al. Thus. 1985) assessed expectancy changes by asking students about their expectations of future grades. 1984. Wilson and Linville (1982. Menec et al. 1989) and increased the passing rate on a series of final exams (Van Overwalle et al. This is likely due to insensitive. 1990) a multiple-choice achievement test was employed based on a half-hour lecture. as compared to the control group.
but excluding any reference to students' GPA. students' attributions. Such measures should clarify which activities contribute to performance increments. and affects following attributional retraining. it is equally important to investigate more specific behavioral changes. such as achievement tests. Some of these concerns have already been raised by Weiner (1983. expectations. Despite this favorable prognosis.'s (1992) study. This lack of evidence for changes in these mediating variables is partly due to inappropriate . AND WEINBERG forces this conclusion. Accordingly. with attributional retraining being compared to a no-intervention control. GRE-type questions. MENEC. the control subjects attended as many sessions as the retraining groups in order to control for potential biases resulting from merely attending sessions. To rule out the possibility that performance increments might be due to demand characteristics. pretest and posttest measures of attribution and emotions must be routinely included in retraining studies. several areas require further investigation. the extant research has several weaknesses that warrant closer attention. absenteeism. in Menec et al. For example. etc. or GPA. HECHTER. if they are to be evaluated properly from the perspective of Weiner's theory. studies have focused only on a narrow range of performance measures. That is. attribution measures such as Russell's (1982) Causal Dimension Scale avoid this problem by allowing students to categorize their attributions along the causal dimensions. FUTURE CONCEPTUAL DEVELOPMENT Given the paucity of attributional retraining studies involving university students. However. Lastly. since Weiner's (1986) theory predicts expectancy changes. and affect prior to the attributional retraining interventions have typically not been assessed. Wilson and Linville (1985) also included a control group that viewed a videotape similar to the one used for attributional retraining. First. 1988). To begin with. in-class participation. Therefore. even though the groups may in fact differ in terms of pre/post expectancy changes.712 PERRY. which typically performs some filler task instead of viewing the attributional retraining videotape. it is possible that no differences between attributional retraining and control groups emerge foltowing the intervention. little evidence is available that demonstrates changes in attributions. all the studies involve proper comparison groups. some researchers have failed to take the student's unique perception of the attributional information into account or have ignored the subjective nature of causal analyses. This is particularly important in the case of expectations. particularly in terms of the assessment of mediating variables and alternate retraining procedures. expectations. As Weiner (1983) points out. including studying time. rather than using an a priori classification scheme. who points out that researchers have failed to utilize attribution theory in its entirety. Second.
by convincing the student to switch majors. be increased. attempts to demonstrate mood changes following attributional retraining have been unsuccessful. or irrelevant. For example. etc. the information taken into consideration during causal search could be changed.ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING 713 general measures. anxiety. Lacking ability to achieve an unimportant goal would result in few. working within Weiner's framework. A further limitation of current research is the exclusive focus on changing ättributions only. then attributions. rather than dropping out of university. unimportant. once a causal search has been completed one may attempt to modify the individual's perception of the causal structure underlying a causal ascription. Comparison of various causal ascriptions is not only of theoretical interest but should also belp to identify characteristics of an optimal intervention program. if any. The student's response to these negative consequences may be modified. therefore. Wilson and Linville. Following failure. Third. then a more optimistic attitude ensues. Weiner (1988) further points out that the motivational consequences of attributions can vary dramatically. using general mood measures of depression. however. a student may perceive lack of ability as stable and unchangeable. Second. pride. First. hut with lack of effort generating guilt and an increased expectancy of success. If the failure is made less extreme. or shame. Thus. Thus. affective or cognitive consequences. or in combination with. even though other aspects of attribution theory lend themseives to interventions. such as guilt. (e. However. selecting mediating and performance measures based more fully on his theory should produce more positive results in future research. orte would want to assess specific feelings. For example.g. In contrast. but avoids creating guiit feelings and related threats to self-esteem. Weiner proposes several plausible alternative interventions that could be applied separately from. Weiner proposes that behavioral responses can be altered in those instances in which attribution-linked affects and cognitions are not amenable to change. For example. 1982. would be less detrimental to motivation and performance. task difficulty decreases expectations. so far. but fail to take into account that the class average was very low and test difficulty might be a more appropriate attribution. But if he or she can be convinced that low ability is unstable and can. a student who performs poorly on a test may ascribe failure to lack of ability.. even though feelings of pride and guilt are theoretically both positive motivators. . Lastly. particularly lack of ability. the initial appraisal of the achievement outcome could be modified. 1985). as in the case of effort and task difficulty attributions. both attributions are assumed to increase motivation and achievement striving. each other. a student who attributes failure to lack of ability may experience low self-esteem and expect to fail future tests. they may not be equally desirable for improving achievement. particularly for failure evaluations. Hence.
for inclusion in training. be included in such programs. Moreover. several employed GPA scores as the selection criterion. since study skills and strategies should have developed by that point in their academic careers. Its derivation from a welldeveloped. compared to videotaped. whether they transfer to some or all academic tasks. status of students and trainer (peer versus professor). highly regarded attribution theory (Weiner. apart from the specific attributions. Researchers. and others medium GPA. etc. the content of the training session. The optimal amount of time for a training session and the optimal number of sessions also require further elaboration. differences between students in active versus passive approaches to failure-prone experiences requires attention. the role of individual differences is particularly important for attributional retraining programs in higher education. number of trainers presented.714 PERRY. or can. APPLICATIONS TO THE COLLEGE CLASSROOM It is clear from this review that attributional retraining promises a significant alternative to existing methods for enhancing college students' scholastic performance. or to social activities. whether they are of equal benefit to all . since it is unlikely that all first-year students should. is of concern. yet some used low GPA. e. The benefits of controlling the consistency of attributional retraining using videotapes must be judged in relation to the spontaneity and rapport operating during in vivo sessions. and administrators alike need to know whether training effects maintain after the program ends. HECHTER. In the studies reported here. both laboratory and field studies are beginning to reveal encouraging empirical support across diverse student populations. Another critical methodological issue for attributional retraining programs concerns aspects of the training itself. interventions should be evaluated more fully. As weil. It has the potential to serve as both a remediation for failure-prone students and a facilitation to successfui students.MENEC. Nevertheless. 1986) adds further substance to its validity and utility. instructors. a critical concern remains at this early stage regarding the extent to which these training benefits will transfer to classroom settings. The value of in vivo. AND WEINBERG Aside from these theoretical ramifications. Senior students may require only attributional retraining.g. whereas junior students may require attributional retraining and strategy development.. differences between first-year and more senior students has not been considered in the current literature. Moreover. A highly interactive retraining program may be more beneficial for some students than the seemingly passive ones developed to date. sex differences between the students and trainer. several methodological issues are in need of further clarification. The criteria used for subject selection in retraining programs require specification. Finally. In this respect.
such as multiple-choice tests. therefore. 1992. what theoretical mechanism is responsible for such effects. This should be possible if attributions featured in the program are equally applicable to various tasks.. similar to priming (e. essays.g. Wilson and Linville. and may account for shõrt-term attributional retraining effects. Magnusson. Schönwetter. 1989. 1982). including those associated with both academic tasks and sporting events. Anderson. are likely to have developed relatively stable explanatory schemas for achievement outcomes that incorporate various causal ascriptions such as effort. This transfer of attributional retraining effects to the college classroom. 1990) and up to several months later (Van Overwalte et al. temporary activation may help explain Perry and Penner's and Menec et al. in press). Thus. It is not clear. howerer. ability. with their extensive experience with academic events. then. and task difficulty (Perry. A student with a history of academic failure may have a longstanding schema incorporating low-ability explanations for failure outcomes and low expectations of success. increasing performance one week after the intervention (Menec et al. requiring active reorganization of cognitive structures by the student over a longer period of time. Weiner (1986) äcknowledges that achievement outcomes. A related issue concerns the degree to which the training program benefits diverse achievement tasks. University students. It is unlikely. Restructuring. Temporary activation may be thought of as an externally driven. Further research is needed to determine whether these two processes are related to the Iongevity of training effects in the college classroom. one involving temporary activation of causal schemas and the second resulting in restructuring of previously held schemas. whereas restructuring may account for Wilson and Linville's and Van Overwalle's long-term GPA findings. and Struthers.and longterm consequences. then. to differentiate between two processes. The goal of attributional retraining is presumably to improve performance in many achievement domains. that one brief intervention will result in permanent changes to such well-established cognitive structures. and whether they are complemented by existing teaching practices. It may be useful.ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING 715 students. is the focus of the remainder of the article.. by contrast. Causal attributions should. can often elicit similar causal ascriptions..'s short-term test results. therefore. Duration and Specificity Research suggests that attributional retraining may have both short. may be a more internally driven process. In reality students must return to and function in classroom conditions that may or may not sustain the beneficial changes brought about through retraining. and oral presentations. be more likely to transfer to other contexts when the training situation and the classroom tasks are perceived to be . 1983). Perry and Penner. relatively passive process.
Interestingly.AND WEINBERG similar. Alternately. defined as a low. although such information was usually supplemented with concrete examples.or high-expressive .716 PERRY. Although research on classroom context variables is sparse. Perry and Penner (1990) and Menec et al. (1992) presented the relevant attribution information in a formal attribution retraining program using videotaped scenarios. Large classes. Specifically. coupled with poor instruction could subvert training effects. None of the attributional retraining studies reviewed has specifically addressed the issue of task transfer. a student who is told to attribute failure to ineffective study strategies within the context of an in-class essay test may transfer this causal schema to an oral presentation if he or she thinks the two tasks require similar learning skilis. HECHTER. Thus. attributional retraining did not affect performance on the economics final. and organizational schemas. which may be perceived as involving quite different skills. Most retraining programs stressed the importance of attributions on academic performance in general. such as memory storage. Five studies in Table 1 examined attributional retraining in relation to effective and ineffective teaching. For example. Further research is required to systematically investigate how closely training information has to match the tasks in which outcome attributions are to be applied. These results suggest that students can readily transfer information provided during retraining to other course material.MENEC. despite class size. A noteworthy exception is Van Overwalle and De Metsenaere's intervention (1990) that focused directly on course-related information. curriculum. however.or high-expressive instructor delivering the same content during a half-hour videotaped lecture. whereas good instruction may support and enhance them. some preliminary evidence is available on the quality of teaching. followed by either low. it becomes important to examine these context variables to determine whether they augment or reduce the effects of attributional retraining. peer group. Classroom Context Classroom context differences such as instruction method. for example. considered to be a major context variable affecting student learning. but did produce higher scores on final exams in other courses. and grading standards create learning conditions that support or undermine students' academic achievement. students viewed interviews in which other students explained why they had failed the midterm economics exam. attributional retraining may serve to buffer students against impoverished learning conditions. these same conditions are likely to influence how well training effects are sustained once the student returns to the classroom. retrieval strategies. Since attributional retraining programs seek to foster achievement motivation and striving. Training may not transfer to creative writing or architectural design.
but success students did not. with ability attributions causing failure students to achieve more than success students. attributional retraining is necessary for external-locus and failure students because such information is absent from their cognitive schemas. Schonwetter. prelecture performance) in moderating attributional retraining benefits. More importantly. Perry and Magnusson (1989a. and therefore should receive more attention when assessing the benefits of retraining procedures. These three studies are also consistent with the two previous ones in that the quality of instruction. These latter three studies were not originally designed as retraining interventions. as a classroom contextual variable. produced strikingly diverse achievement patterns. These three studies differed from each other primarily in the amount of success feedback provided to all students on the prelecture test. locus of control. again suggesting compensatory effects associated with expressive instruction.e. (in press) adopted a similar experimental design as the previous studies. but not internal-locus. effort. 1989b) and Perry.ATTRIBUTIONAL RETRAINING 717 instruction. When instruction was effective. these studies provide consistent evidence for the importance of individual differences (i. . 1989b) and Perry et al. One explanation of these findings is that internal-locus and success students derived little benefit from retraining because they had already incorporated the attributional information into their cognitive schemas through prior experiences. they also suggest a possible compensatory role for instmction in which retraining is of benefit only when combined with effective instruction. but all five studies had a common core experimental design featuring the attributional information-instmction sequence and similar achievement and attribution measures. Perry and Magnusson (1989a. Magnusson. The results were generally consistent across all three studies. differences diminished between attribution groups and between perceived success groups. In contrast. internal attributions produced better performance. or test difficulty. Notable differences between these studies primarily involved the inclusion of other independent variables. Once again. Perry and Penner (1990) added locus of control to their design and Menec et al. (1992) added prelecture test performance (Study 1) and locus of control (Study 2) to theirs. but with the attributional retraining modified as noted above. This same pattern emerged for prelecture performance in that failure students benefited from attributional retraining. Together. and with perceived success as the individual difference variable. In contrast. and Struthers (in press) induced attribution information prior to the instruction manipulation by informing students that their performance on a prelecture test was due to either ability. In both studies attributional retraining improved extemal-locus.. When instruction was ineffective. Along with the retraining-instruction sequence. the effect was found only for at-risk students and only when instruction was effective. students' performance when instruction was effective.
instructors may actually function as trainers using these procedures--though inadvertently.. theoretically derived remediation program. HECHTER. law (Van Overwalle and De Metsenaere. only the desired attributions are presented without the trainer monitoring and correcting the student. but you can toaster the material if you study harder. 1989). 1990). course content remains an unexamined context variable. Thus. or sociology courses. During and after class students orten make statements such as: "l'm not smart enough to pass. attributional retraining has been presented as a highly structured. otherwise you would not be hefe. by monitoring and correcting students' attributional thinking. however. either directly in person. In the studies reported here (Table 1) the students were from eeonomics (Van Overwalle et al. In a similar manner. normally implemented outside the classroom by trained personnel. psychology. the trainer not only presents the desired attributions but also often corrects undesirable attributions made by the student working on some achievement task." "I was just lucky to do well on the test.718 PERRY. the instructor has an ideal opportunity to encourage the student to think differently about the event. skill acquisition." or "The material is too difficult. however. physics. no attempt was made by the respective researchers to compare retraining programs across content or disciplines. Those programs featuring effort. or vicariously on videotape. Courses differ in content." Faced with such attributional statements. but receives rauch less emphasis in comparison to effort in history. ability is considered critical to success in mathematics. With the vicarious procedure. the folklore associated with some courses encourages students to explain their performance using specific attributions that may or may not be compatible with an attributional retraining program." or "This may be a difficult course. although potentially important. Essential to most formal programs is the trainer who communicates the desired attributions (Figure 1) to the student. College Teaching as Attributional Retraining To this point.MENEC." During these informal exchanges the instructor takes on the typical role of the in vivo trainer in more formal programs. orten unintentionally. the instructor may function vicariously as a trainer by communicating attributional information during . another salient classroom context variable is course content or discipline. Thus." "Luck has less to do with your success than your approach (strategy) to the course. some having explicit. well-established stereotypes linking particular factors to success and failure. and strategy attributions may be more difficult to implement with mathematics students than with history students. For instance. 1982). or music. With the former in vivo procedure. While engaged in routine teaching activities. and nonnally without systematic application. and psychology (Wilson and Linville.AND WEINBERG Aside from teaching quality. by suggesting a more suitable explanation: "You do have the ability.
Wagner. . or on the many issues affecting its implementation including timing. achievement demotivation and failure can be engendered by advocating undesirable attributions (Figure 1). Attributional retraining may be aptly suited to this purpose. 1983). in others. For example.ATTRIBUTIONALRETRAINING 719 a teaching episode through examples. ." etc. Some instructors may inadvertently undermine students' motivation or self-worth by making claims such as: "Only the very best pass this course. Compas. Thus. context. however." In some instances these admonitions are seemingly well intended--to motivate students through challenge. For example. be an important and appropriate time for intervention programs intended to reduce stress-related problems and to bolster personal sense of control. although generally thougbt to be a positive rite of passage. these teaching episodes may indirectly convey similar attributional information as formal training programs offered outside the classroom. and Howell (1988) conducted a partei design study of transition from high school to college and argued that daily events act as a mediating variable between major life events and psychological symptoms." "The next exam will separate the wheat from the chaff. in statements such as: "When I was a student studying for my finals . Usually the information is presented to the entire class. they are inspired by more sinister motives. This transition period may. . 1979). is one aspect of life that may be extremely stressful for some students. little research has been done on classroom teaching a s an attributional retraining paradigm per se. Unfortunately. " or "Pioneer societies took more responsibility for their problems than we do now. residential or day-student facilities. Coelho. the institutions from which the student subjects were drawn. frequency. 1971. Moreover. without an opportunity for monitoring or corrective feedback. analogies. and the qualities of the instructor (trainer). therefore. This transition is thought to be an example of heightened vulnerability (Bloom. creating the situation in which an individual's coping resources may be taxed by their attempts to manage the demands of the transition (Feiner. and Primavera. Just as achievement motivation and performance are enhanced by inculcäting desirable attributions. have not been considered in attribu- . Farber. In either case they do little to achieve the positive benefits of attributional retraining! Tr nsition from High School to College The transition from high school to college. the attributional retraining studies reported here have not identified transition-year variables. This congruence between teaching in the college classroom and formal attributional retraining programs creates considerable opportunity to systematically respond to students' motivational problems. and personal anecdotes." or "You'll be lucky to get through this course. littte interest has been shown in the possible abuses of attributional retraining that may arise from the misapplication of procedures by the instructor.
which emphasizes the self-protective nature of the causal search.720 PERRY. reasoning that these individuais were unlikely to benefit from one brief intervention (see also Perry and Penner. Students are thought to focus on specific attributions. Of the attributional retraining studies involving college students. while attribution retraining should increase motivation. They excluded students with extreme motivational deficits and/or marginal ability. HECHTER. Moreover. a study strategy course would enhance a student's skills to study effectively. but did not draw any conclusions. some theoretical. choosing explanations such as effort or luck that allow them to rnaintain a belief in their academic abilities. Researchers may also want to identify individual differences that may interact with attribution retraining and possibly attempt to match individuals with particular strategies. both attributional retraining and study strategies may be equally irnportant for increasing academic achievement. . Those who reported being homesick had higher levels of psychological disturbance and cognitive failure than those not being homesick. and some practical. some methodological. 1993) self-worth theory. it is important to consider possible adverse effects of these interventions. Ethical Issues While researchers have focused on the positive consequences of attributional retraining. need to be addressed. 1990). (1989) who stressed the ethical concerns of providing attribution retraining for low-ability students. many questions. Experiment 2) argue that. Such considerations are consistent with Covington's (1984. Although their study showed that providing both strategy and attributional retraining did not produce an advantage over retraining alone. Future research should attempt to identify students that may be at risk. MENEC. Therefore. only Jesse and Gregory (1986-87) atternpted to evaluate social support as a potentially important variable. this issue deserves further investigation. it is important to recognize that high motivation cannot improve achievernent if a student lacks the necessary skitls to succeed. Van Overwalle and De Metsenaere (1990. Fisher and Hood (1988) reported in their study of first-year residential college students a gender difference of psychological disturbance and cognitive failure. enthusiasrn for such interventions should be tempered by ethical concerns for the possible negative psychological consequences of this technique. particularly following failure. In sum. One of the more important issues is that of the optimal strategy to be used. in order to protect their selfesteem. AND WEINBERG tional studies. Although results of attribution retraining research have been promising. attributional retraining interventions rnay inadvertently threaten students' sense of self-worth. By providing other explanations. Such concerns were raised by Van Overwalle et al.
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