Goal orientation, delineating prerequisites for sustained achievement motivation within an attributional retraining context

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Pelletier, Sarah T.
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Attributional retraining (AR) is an intervention for changing maladaptive causal attributions to adaptive ones (Wilson & Linville, 1982; 1984). While the therapy shows promise as a remedial technique for assisting at-risk students (Perry et al, 1993), differences exist in its efficacy which appear to be due, in part, to individual student characteristics (Menec et al, 1994). Mastery and performance orientations (Ames, 1984) represent attributional preferences for explaining achievement as due to effort or ability respectively (Dweck, 1986), and can be construed as contributing to the effectiveness of the intervention. However, while mastery-orientation exists as a unidimensional motive, performance-orientation may consist of both approach and avoidance components (Elliott & Harackiewicz, 1996), linked to the student's success perceptio s. College students (n = 328) were evaluated on their goal orientation and success perceptions at the beginning of the academic term, after which half of the sample received AR, with the other half serving as a control. Hypotheses were tested using an attributional retraining (no AR, AR) by goal orientation (failure-accept, performance-avoid, performance-approach, mastery) by perceived success (low, high) 2 x 4 x 2 factorial design. Dependent measures of final grade, perceived control, attributions and affect were assessed at the end of the year. Goal orientation and perceived success interacted with attributional retraining such that when compared to the control group, AR had little influence on the dependent measures for mastery-oriented students, and differential effects for the two performance-orientations depending on their perceived success. Discussion focused on acknowledging the self-worth and ego-protective motives as influential in the success of attributional retraining, with suggestions for reconciling the effort/ability dichotomy to make the therapy beneficial for the student population at large.