Causal attributions for success and failure in relation to expectations of success based upon selective or manipulative control



Subjects worked at a 10-item Anagrams Test. In a manipulative control condition the prior performance of subjects on a set of practice anagrams was controlled so that half of these subjects began the test with high expectations of success and half with low expectations of success As a check on the manipulation, subjects provided ratings of how confident they were that they could pass the test (i e, solve five anagrams or more) In a selective control condition subjects were not given practice items but were subsequently assigned to high versus low expectation groups on the basis of their confidence ratings The difficulty level of the items in the Anagrams Test was manipulated so that half the subjects in each condition passed the test and half failed. Subsequently all subjects were required to rate the degree to which they considered ability (or lack of ability), effort (or lack of effort), task difficulty (easy or hard), and luck (good or bad) were causes of their performance outcome (success or failure). It was found that the expected success was attributed more to ability and less to good luck than was the unexpected success The expected failure was attributed more to lack of ability and less to bad luck than was the unexpected failure There was a greater tendency for subjects to appeal to task difficulty and effort as causes of their performance when they succeeded than when they failed. These results were discussed in terms of a structural balance model of attribution behavior and also in relation to Heider's naive analysis of the causes of action