Anderson, C.A., & Jennings, D. L. (1980).

When experiences of failure promote expectations of success: The impact of attributing failure to ineffective strategies.

Journal of Personality, 48, 394-407.


This experiment examined the effects of attributing initial failure to ineffective strategies on performance expectancies. Subjects were induced to attribute performance at a persuasion task to either their strategies (a controllable factor) or abilities (an uncontrollable factor). Subjects then failed at their initial persuasion attempt. Following failure, strategy subjects expected more successes in future attempts than did ability subjects. Strategy subjects also expected to improve with practice, while ability subjects did not. Comparisons to control subjects, who received no attribution manipulation prior to success or failure, clarify these results. Findings suggest that subjects attributing task outcomes to strategies monitored the effectiveness of their strategies and concluded that by modifying their strategies they would become more successful. In contrast, subjects attributing task outcome to abilities failed to attend to strategic features and concluded that they could not improve. Implications of this overlooked factor for attribution theory and learned helplessness are discussed.

© 1980 by the Duke University Press.

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