Promoting adaptive attributional thinking for vulnerable individuals in novel and highly competitive learning environments

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Parker, Patti C.
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Life course transitions are marked by novelty and uncertainty, as when attending a new school, starting a career, or retiring (Heckhausen et al., 2010). Within this perspective, the high school-to-university transition is significant because it involves unfamiliar learning conditions, more competition, unstable social networks, and difficult career choices. This transition can be exacerbated for competitive student athletes who encounter multiple stressors in their pursuit for mastery in both academic and sport domains (Chyi et al., 2018; Papanikolaou et al., 2003). Little research has (a) examined achievement motivation applying person-centered approaches based on an attribution-based theoretical perspective, or (b) assessed at-risk-student athletes who could benefit from a motivation-enhancing intervention. Attributional Retraining (AR) interventions have been shown to remediate motivation and performance deficits for at-risk students (Perry et al., 2017). This dissertation focuses on the examination of student motivation profiles and the effects of AR for vulnerable student athletes. In Study 1, motivation profiles for student athletes (n = 207) and non-athletes (n = 534) were identified based on theoretically-informed cognitions and emotions. Latent profile analysis (LPA) yielded three best-suited profiles for student athletes: control-focused (56%), control-disengaged (29%), and control-relinquished (15%); and four best suited profiles for non-athletes: control-focused (27%), control-ambivalent (25%), control-disengaged (30%), and control-relinquished (18%). Comparisons between athlete and non-athlete motivation profiles are discussed and these profiles are validated with a course-based test. Study 2 utilized an eight-month, randomized treatment design to examine whether AR (vs. no-AR) increased perceived course success, final grades, and course retention for at-risk student athletes. AR (vs. no-AR) boosted at-risk competitive athletes’ academic achievement and lowered course withdrawal rates (12% vs. 27%). Study 3 assessed whether AR effects on final grades were mediated by theory-based cognitive and affective processes for at-risk student athletes in a blended learning environment. A path analysis revealed AR increased perceived academic control, which increased positive and negative emotions, and these emotions predicted final grades in expected directions, but only for high-stress athletes. The results build upon existing literature by exploring unexamined motivation profiles and by testing the moderating and mediating effects of AR for student athletes navigating school-to-university transitions.
Academic transitions, Achievement motivation, Attribution theory, Perceived control, Perceived stress, Competitive student athletes