Attributional retraining: facilitating academic adjustment for failure-prone individuals in an achievement setting

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Hamm, Jeremy M.
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Although some individuals excel during the transition from high school to university, many struggle to adjust and experience repeated failures. To facilitate academic adjustment in those most at-risk of failure, vulnerable students were identified based on their pre-existing levels of preoccupation with failure (PWF; low, high) and primary control (PC; low, high). These factors were combined to create four distinct psychosocial typologies (e.g., low PWF, low PC). Students were subsequently presented with Attributional Retraining (AR), a control-enhancing treatment intervention. An AR (no- AR, AR) by group (failure-acceptors, failure-ruminators, achievement-oriented, over- strivers) 2 x 4 pre-post, quasi-experimental treatment design examined longitudinal differences in causal attributions, achievement emotions, PC, and achievement outcomes. AR encouraged all students to de-emphasize two uncontrollable attributions for failure and emphasize a controllable attribution. Most interestingly, AR was particularly beneficial for at-risk students. Notably, only failure-acceptors (low PWF, low PC) and failure-ruminators (high PWF, low PC) receiving AR reported more adaptive activity emotions and higher PC than their no-AR peers. For only failure-ruminators, those in the AR condition exhibited more adaptive attribution-related emotions than their no-AR peers. Conversely, only failure-acceptors receiving AR had higher grade point averages and fewer voluntary withdrawals than their no-AR counterparts. Results suggest the efficacy of AR in facilitating functional causal thinking for all students, whereas they also underscore  AR’s  value in promoting adaptive emotions, PC, and academic achievement for failure-prone students.
attributional retraining, perceived control, action control, academic achievement