The Relationship of Attributional Beliefs to Self-Esteem

By Turner, Lisa A.; Pickering, Shannon et al. | Adolescence, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

The Relationship of Attributional Beliefs to Self-Esteem


Turner, Lisa A., Pickering, Shannon, Johnson, R. Burke, Adolescence


ABSTRACT

Several studies have reported that beliefs about the causes of events (i.e., causal attributions) are related to achievement-oriented behavior. Skinner (1995) has suggested that achievement-oriented behavior is related to beliefs about successful strategies and beliefs about the capacity to enact those strategies. Based on Skinner's research, Wellborn, Connell, and Skinner (1989) developed the Students' Perception of Control Questionnaire (SPOCQ). In the present investigation, the SPOCQ was adapted for use with adolescents and adults. The SPOCQ and the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale were administered to 147 college students. The internal consistency and the intercorrelations of the SPOCQ subscales were found to be acceptable. Additionally, SPOCQ scores were related to self-esteem and grade point average. There were statistically significant differences in the SPOCQ scores for males and females and in the relation of SPOCQ scores to self-esteem. It is suggested that the three constructs measured by the SPOCQ (con trol, strategies, and capacity) provide a more complete description of attributional beliefs than do previous scales.

The primary purpose of this investigation was to determine if the scores on a multidimensional instrument measuring attributional beliefs--the Students' Perception of Control Questionnaire (SPOCQ)--are related to self-esteem and grade point average (GPA). Additional objectives were to (1) determine if there are gender differences on sub-scales of the SPOCQ, (2) determine if there are gender differences in the correlations of the subscales with self-esteem, and (3) determine the adequacy of the internal consistency of the SPOCQ subscales in a sample of adolescents and adults.

The measurement of attributional beliefs in adolescents and adults is an important issue because a substantial amount of research indicates that these beliefs about the causes of events are related to achievement-oriented behavior (Koestner, Zuckerman, & Olsson, 1990; Ames, 1984; Butler, 1987; Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Jagacinski & Nicholls, 1984) and self-esteem (Jagacinski & Nicholls, 1984). Persons who believe that their behavior has no impact on outcomes are likely to develop learned helplessness, avoid challenging situations, and fail to persist (Dweck & Leggett, 1988). This can result in a "cycle of failure" in which negative beliefs result in a lack of persistence, which leads to failure and potentially lowered self-esteem. Failure and low self-esteem confirm the negative beliefs, and the cycle continues.

Weiner (1985) has indicated that beliefs about the causes of success and failure vary along three dimensions: locus (internal or external), stability (stable or unstable), and control (controllable or uncontrollable). He has suggested that persons who attribute failure to ability view failure as an internal, stable, uncontrollable event. Failure is seen as beyond their control and they have little incentive to persist in similar tasks in the future.

Skinner (1995) suggests that there may be important individual differences in the perceived importance of causes (e.g., effort and ability) and in one's perceived capacity to access these causes. Although previous attribution scales have assessed individual differences in perceived importance of effort and ability for a given outcome (e.g., Nowicki & Strickland, 1973), Skinner argues that it is necessary to determine not only the importance of the cause, but also the person's perceived access to that cause. Skinner suggests that action is related to beliefs about what strategies are successful and one's perceived capacity to access those strategies. She contends that individuals are likely to behave effortfully when they believe effort is an effective strategy, and when they believe they can behave effortfully.

Based on Skinner's theoretical conceptualization, Wellborn, Connell, and Skinner (1989) developed the Students' Perception of Control Questionnaire (SPOCQ) to measure children's beliefs about specific strategies and the extent to which they believe they have control over those strategies. …

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