Learned Helplessness: The Effect of Failure on Test-Taking
Firmin, Michael, Hwang, Chi-En, Copella, Margaret, Clark, Sarah, Education
This study examined learned helplessness and its effect on test taking. Students were given one of two tests; the first began with extremely difficult questions and the other started with easy questions. We hypothesized that those who took the test beginning with difficult questions would become easily frustrated and possibly doubt their intellectual ability. This would result in the participants missing easy questions when compared to those who took the test which began with the easy questions. The result of the study confirmed our hypothesis. The results of this study could also be applied to other classroom tests and standardized tests where learned helplessness could negatively affect test scores.
Learned helplessness is a phenomenon containing three components: contingency, cognition, and behavior. Contingency addresses the uncontrollability of the situation. Cognition refers to the attributions that people make regarding their situation or surroundings of which they are a part. Behavior allows individuals to decide whether they will give up or proceed with the obstacle set before them (Peterson, Maier, & Seligman, 1993).
When people experience learned helplessness, they have a tendency to give up easily or fail more often at somewhat easier tasks. Learned helplessness is more likely to result from situations where failure is uncontrollable. For example, Gernigon, Fleurance, and Reine (2000) conducted a study on failure in controlled and uncontrolled circumstances. They found that failure was more likely to occur in uncontrollable circumstances.
Another study, conducted by Stiensmieier-Pelster and Schurmann (1989), addressed failure in terms of blaming the results on internal or external factors and how performance was affected by the response. They performed two tests on subjects and then rated their performances. The researchers found that the subjects who related the failure to internal causes, such as the task was intellectually too difficult for them personally, were more inclined to give up than those who attributed their failures to external causes, such as thinking that the test itself had impossible questions.
Many factors load into the construct of learned helplessness. For example, the type of situation may affect the way that people respond to difficult …
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Publication information: Article title: Learned Helplessness: The Effect of Failure on Test-Taking. Contributors: Firmin, Michael - Author, Hwang, Chi-En - Author, Copella, Margaret - Author, Clark, Sarah - Author. Journal title: Education. Volume: 124. Issue: 4 Publication date: Summer 2004. Page number: 688+. © 1999 Project Innovation. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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