Attributions of female and male adolescents for real-life failure experiences

Helen S. Farmer, Walter P. Vispoel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The purpose of this study was to determine whether female subjects demonstrate learned helplessness in their attribution patterns to a greater extent than male subjects when they describe failures they actually have experienced. Subjects were 1,462 ninth-and twelfth-grade students (697 boys, 765 girls) from representative rural, urban, and inner-city high schools in the Midwest. The subjects recalled failure experiences from a wide range of achievement domains: school, sports, aesthetics, family, social, and work. The dependent variables were four failure attributions: lack of ability, lack of effort, lack of luck, and lack of cooperation. Sex and achievement domain differences accounted, respectively, for 2% and 18% of the variance in attribution responses. Both boys and girls recalled a substantial and comparable proportion of school-related failures. The strongest differences between boys and girls was in their choice of salient achievement domains outside of school; girls recalled more family and aesthetics failures and fewer sports failures than boys. Little evidence was obtained supporting the learned helplessness model for adolescent female achievement motivation. There was also considerable variability in the relative importance of the four failure attributions both within and across achievement domains. Internal attributions were most characteristic of school and least characteristic of work failures. Cooperation attributions were endorsed more in the social and family domains than in the other domains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-140
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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