Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Influence of Gender and Learned Helplessness on Some Mathematics-Related Cognitive Behaviour of Lesotho Senior Secondary School Students

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Influence of Gender and Learned Helplessness on Some Mathematics-Related Cognitive Behaviour of Lesotho Senior Secondary School Students

Article excerpt

Learned helplessness in mathematics has been identified as a problem that significantly influences students' performance. This study examines the hypotheses that gender and learned helplessness determines significantly the level performance of Lesotho secondary school students in mathematics. Three hundred and ten students from 12 senior secondary schools completed questionnaires assessing their level of learned helplessness as well as ability in mathematics so far. Using a chi-square and two-way ANOVA, results indicated that gender does not significantly determine the level of learned helplessness in mathematics although they both influence students' cognitive behaviour independently; there was no significant interaction between gender and level of learned helplessness. These results were discussed and appropriate recommendations made.

Keywords: Learned helplessness; gender; mathematics performance, cognitive behaviour

In education, poor and deteriorating performance in mathematics has been associated with learned helplessness. When an individual becomes helpless as a result of experiences of repeated failure or poor performance in a task, depression, hopelessness, dejection and rejection tend to set in. Learned helplessness is a mental state in which people feel that they have no control over their failures and that failure is inevitable. This feeling affects students' cognitive ability and performances in various subjects (Peterson, Maier 8c Seligman, 1993). As a result, the child has a tendency to give up on a task easily once he or she encounters difficulty (Gordon 8c Gordon, 2008). According to Yates (2008), helplessness is often used to define students self report indices such as intellectual achievement. It is the inability to conceptualize and take in facts which are usually associated with depression. A lot of factors such as genetic, environmental set up, stress, emotions and feelings have been identified to be responsible for this (Caldarone, George, Zachariou 8c Picciotto, 2000). Many students find learning easy while others find it difficult.

Theoretical Background

The theory of learned helplessness originated from Pavlov classical conditioning theory in psychology which extended to human behaviour providing a model for explaining depression (Peterson, Maier, 8c Seligman, 1993). According to Seligman, depressed people have learned to be helpless. In order words, depressed people feel that whatever they do will be futile, and that they have no control over their environments. Seligman suggested that depressed people tended to use a more pessimistic explanatory style when thinking about stressful events than did non-depressed people, who tended to be more optimistic in nature. Learned helpless children see failure as permanent (ability not effort), pervasive (in everything they do) and very personal (Gordon & Gordon, 2008) . Seligman, further points out that changing these beliefs is not just learning to say positive things about one, but changing the destructive, habitual, automatic things said when one experiences the setbacks of life. Further, he said, there is (1) a sense of powerlessness due to the perception of lack of ability and (2) simultaneously there is an increased estimate of the importance of ability as a causal factor in success. This combination places failure prone students in kind of double jeopardy which results in learned helplessness. This explains students' resistance to learn despite well intended and well developed teacher strategies. Most researchers believe that people who experience learned helplessness struggle with three problems: motivational, cognitive and emotional which destroys the child's desire to learn (Gordon, 8c Gordon, 2008; Madden, 2007). Gordon and Gordon (2008) however contended that explanatory style develops in childhood and by third grade, the child had already developed optimistic or pessimistic perceptions about the world from parents, teachers and other adults at home and in the community. …

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