Effort and ability attributions as explanation for differences in study choice after failure: evidence from a hypothetical vignette study among first-entry bachelor students in a Belgian university

  • Sebastiano CincinnatoEmail author
  • Nadine Engels
  • Els Consuegra


This study investigates to what extent differences in ability and effort attributions can explain students’ reluctance to reorient after failure in the first year at the university. Reluctance to reorient after failure increases the likelihood of drop out. The empirical investigation is based on a sample of fulltime first-entry bachelor students enrolled in a social or behavioural science study programme at a Belgian university (N = 432). These students were asked to assess their study choices in a hypothetical failure scenario. Logit regression indicates that attributing failure to lack of ability is associated with a stronger tendency to reorient after failure. Furthermore, path analysis suggests that male students’ reluctance to reorient after failure is at least partially explained by their weaker tendency to attribute failure to lack of ability. Given the malleability of attributions, we argue that study counselling services can benefit from the insights of this study.


Higher education Study choice Student background Attribution Ability Effort 



We would like to acknowledge our institution, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, for funding the project that made this research possible. We would also like to express our gratitude to Prof. Dr. Bram Spruyt and the reviewers for their insightful feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada, Lisboa and Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Multidisciplinary Institute for Teacher Education (MILO)Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)BrusselsBelgium

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