As causal attributions for school success and failure are central constructs for achievement motivation, an investigation of causal attributions for success and failure in a mathematics exam was carried out among 110 public school Brazilian students. Participants were from both sexes and low SES, and ranged in age from eight to 16 years old. Subjects were interviewed individually and their causal attributions were assessed through 14 yes or no paired items related to a math exam situation. Data revealed that effort and lack of effort were the most important attributions for success and failure. Significant differences emerged between causal attributions and predictor variables. Findings are discussed in terms of their contribution for understanding the role school context plays in enhancing students' motivation.
Keywords: Causal attributions for success and failure; mathematics exam; school achievement.
Como as atribuições de causalidade para sucesso e fracasso escolar são constructos centrais para a motivação acadêmica, foi realizado um estudo sobre atribuições de causalidade para sucesso e fracasso escolar entre 110 alunos brasileiros. Os participantes eram de ambos os sexos, nível sócio-econômico desfavorecido e de idade variando entre oito e 16 anos. Os sujeitos foram entrevistados individualmente. As atribuições de causalidade foram medidas por meio de 14 itens de escolha forçada relacionados a um exame de matemática. O esforço e a falta de esforço foram as atribuições mais importantes. Diferenças significativas entre as atribuições de causalidade e as variáveis demográficas foram encontradas. Os dados são discutidos em termos do importante papel da escola na promoção da motivação para a aprendizagem adequada, no aluno.
Palavras-chave: Atribuições de Causalidade para Sucesso e Fracasso; Exame de Matemática; Rendimento Escolar.
Attributing causes to events that usually happen in the environment has been considered as an human tendency. People not only use to think about facts that occur in their lives, but also try to explain them searching for their causes. Heider (1944) was the first to conduct studies aimed at understanding the way individuals look for links between causes and effects of events in their lives. His pioneer work had demonstrated that comprehending how people attribute causes is very useful information for predicting and modifying future behavior.
Weiner (1979, 1985) in subsequent studies emphasized the relationship between individuals' causal attributions for success and failure and their achievement behavior in academic domain. As suggested by Weiner (1985), the attribution theory links the process of thinking , feeling and action. Individuals generally point out ability, effort, task difficulty and luck as possible causes for their success and failure experiences in academic settings. Other causes such as mood, feeling tired, teacher's influence and other people's influence were also found, but to a much lesser extent.
Causality within the attribution theory is conceptualized as having three dimensions: locus, stability and controllability. In respect to its locus, a cause can be considered as external or internal (factors that are inside or outside the individual). Regarding its controllability, an event can be caused by a factor which is or is not under the individuals' control. In terms of its stability, a cause can be permanent or subject to change. Intelligence is frequently seen as internal, stable, and uncontrollable. Effort is considered as internal, unstable and controllable. Task difficulty and luck are taken as external, unstable and uncontrollable (Weiner, 1985). In fact, according to Weiner, a cause itself is less important to determine an achievement behavior than its dimensions. The stability is the most important dimension influencing future expectations. If individuals perceive the cause of an outcome to be stable, it will increase the likelihood that the same event will be expected in the future.
The cognitive theories of achievement motivation in academic domain differ from the more mechanistic approaches in the importance given to internal beliefs such as thoughts, causal attributions, and feelings in the learning process. Such cognitive theories assume that behavior is determined by students' beliefs. Indeed, beliefs are mediators of behavior. According to Tapia and Garcia-Celay (in Coll, Palacios, & Marchesi, 1996), causal attributions for success and failure are central constructs in a general theory of motivation. In fact, attributions exert an impact on students' motivation to learn, emotions and future expectations for success and faliure (Weiner, 1985). In addition, Weiner (1993) advocates that causal attributions and issues regarding individuals' control and perceived responsibility of events that occur in their or others' lives are central constructs influencing individuals' social relationships generating different sorts of social reactions, as well.
No doubts exist that Brazil faces very serious problems of school underachievement and school drop out (Patto, 1993). Many were the investigations carried out to shed light onto the causes of these problems (Collares & Moyses, 1995; Leite, 1988; …