The Influence of Attributional Retraining on Career Choices

By Szabo, Zsuzsanna | Journal of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychotherapies, September 2006 | Go to article overview
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The Influence of Attributional Retraining on Career Choices

Szabo, Zsuzsanna, Journal of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychotherapies


Attributional style can have an influence on the way people think about their performances, the kind of tasks people choose to perform, and as a consequence the career path people choose. Attributional styles could be more or less adaptive for certain situations. If a person has maladaptive attributional style, through attributional retraining he or she can be trained to develop more adaptive causal attributions. Results from this study show that attributional retraining for high school students is effective with as few as five training sessions and that attributional retraining has an influence on the career choices listed by the students before and after the attributional retraining.

Key words: attributional style, attributional retraining, career choices, gender differences


Attributional patterns can have consequences for the kind of tasks people choose to perform, in students for the elective courses they register for, and in the end for the careers people choose to follow in their life path (Matlin, 1987; Nieva & Gutek, 1981; Zuckerman, 1980).

According to attributional theory (Weiner, 1986), it is only when an individual performs according to expectations that the outcome is attributed to skill. When the person performs inconsistent with expectations, the outcome is attributed to factors such as luck, situational factors that enable success, easiness of tasks, or effort. More than that, even when the performance outcome is successful, interpretations of that success differ when the one who performed it is a woman or a man. When equally successful, a woman is perceived as less skilled than a man (Deaux & Emswiller, 1974). Some researchers (Wigfield & Karpathian, 1991) have found that females are less likely than males to attribute success to ability and more likely to attribute failure to lack of ability. Sex differentiated attributions can impact males' and females' subsequent motivation in a certain domain of interest, and can influence cognitive outcomes such as achievement. From an attributional style point of view, it could be said that those females who "survived" in the "male" dominated fields had a more effective attributional style.

Attributions for success and failure are often related to achievement activities. Attributing success to one's ability and effort and failure to lack of effort is seen as positive, whereas attributing success to luck and failure to lack of ability has negative connotations. In order to help students be more adaptive in their thinking about different situations in their life different models of attributional training were developed to help them (females especially, and low achievers) to make better causal attributions about their successes and failures. Attributional retraining might in the end change not only the way people make causal attributions about different situations in their life, but also the way they think about and choose careers.


Educational psychologists relate school achievement to motivation, and researchers in this domain attempt to determine what factors, other than ability, account for the differences found in the way students respond to academic success and academic failure. Failure may elicit intensified effort and persistence for some (adaptive pattern), while others may withdraw from the situation and resign to failure (maladaptive pattern). Academic success, on the other hand, may evoke responses ranging from surprise and relief to feelings of competence and confidence (adaptive patterns). Although such differential patterns do not necessarily indicate differing intellectual abilities, they do have a profound effect on one's academic behavior (Weiner, 1986). Does the student persist or withdraw in the face of academic challenge? Attributional theory provides a plausible explanation for such discrepant motivational patterns.

Attributional theory emerged from Heider's (1958) "lay" psychology and subsequent reformulations by Jones and Davis (1965), Kelley (1973), and Weiner (1986).

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The Influence of Attributional Retraining on Career Choices


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