Most Successful and Least Successful Performances: Perceptions of Causal Attributions in High School Track Athletes

Article excerpt

The purpose of the present study was to examine the causal attributions for most successful and least successful performances made by male high school track athletes in two different age categories. Seventeen seniors and nineteen freshmen were asked to recall the most successful and least successful performances of their track careers and then complete the revised Causal Dimension Scale (CDS-II; McAuley, Rejeski, & Russell, 1985). Level of performance (most successful vs. least successful) and age (freshmen vs. seniors) were the independent variables. The CDS-II measured the athletes' attributions along three dimensions (the dependent variables): stability, locus of causality, and controllability. A series of six ANOVA's revealed the following: (a) Subjects attributed outcomes to controllable (vs. uncontrollable) factors, and this controllability was significantly greater in the "best" performance attributions, (b) locus of causality scores were more internal (vs. external) and were significantly more interna l in the "best" performance attributions, and (c) subjects attributed outcomes to more stable (vs. unstable) factors and were significantly more stable in the "best" performance attributions. Results from a between-groups ANOVA indicated that freshmen and seniors do not significantly differ from each other in their attribution making. Overall it is seen that male adolescent track athletes attribute outcomes to more controllable, internal, and stable causes when recalling their most successful performance.

Founded by Fritz Heider (1944) and further developed by Bernard Weiner (1985), attribution theory has become a focus of psychology (e.g., Cox, 1991; Santamaria & Furst, 1994). Generally speaking, research in attribution theory examines the process people go through in order to identify the causes for their own behavior, the behavior of others, and the causes of various life events (Santamaria & Furst, 1994; Weiner, 1985). According to Heider(1944, 1958), causal attributions are inferences as to why something happened. Why do people feel the need to explain the reasons for something happening to them? LeUnes and Nation (1996) answer:

Causal...attributions represent an attempt on the part of laypersons and professionals alike to explain both their behavior and that of those around them. By engaging in such attributions, a measure of psychological closure is achieved, integrity and self-esteem are maintained, and a degree of order is achieved in the environment. Such is the function of our continuous behavioral attributions. (p. 149)

Weiner (1985) was one of the first to create specific causal dimensions that may underlie causal attributions. (A concise history on the origin and development of causal dimensions may be seen in LeUnes and Nation, 1996.) In brief, evidence has been generated to support the existence of three causal dimensions: locus of causality, stability, and controllability (Weiner, 1985). "Weiner's model posits causal attributions to be of little importance in themselves but, rather, to influence behavior in terms of the causal dimensions or common properties underlying attributions" (McAuley, Duncan, & Russell, 1992, p. 566). Weiner's (1980) three-dimensional taxonomy can be seen in Table 1.

A common measuring device that examines Weiner's three dimensions is the revised Causal Dimension Scale (CDS-II; McAuley, Rejeski, & Russell, 1985). The CDS-II allows participants to make causal attributions about an event (e.g., athletic contest) on the dimensions of locus of causality, stability, and controllability (Furst, 1989). Biddle (1993) summarized the literature on attributions as it relates to sport. He states that winners of sports events tend to make attributions to internal, stable, and controllable factors more than losers do. Biddle found that few gender differences have been found in sport research, often in contradiction to research in other areas. …