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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The mediating influence of effort attributions was not tested because it was not significantly associated with study choice preference. Cultural background is discounted in the path model because it is only associated with effort-attributions, which is unrelated with study choice preferences. SES is discounted because it does not relate significantly with any of the variables under investigation.

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Acknowledgements

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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Correspondence to Sebastiano Cincinnato.

Additional information

Sebastiano Cincinnato. Multidisciplinary Institute for Teacher Education (MILO), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Pleinlaan 9, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium. E-mail: Sebastiano.Cincinnato@vub.be

Current themes of research:

Study success in higher education.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

No previous publications.

Nadine Engels. Multidisciplinary Institute for Teacher Education (MILO), Pleinlaan 9, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium

Current themes of research:

Teacher professional development and professional identity. Collaborative teacher research. Diversity and equal opportunities in education.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

Willegems, V., Consuegra, E., Struyven, K., & Engels, N. (2018). Pre-service Teachers as Members of a Collaborative Teacher Research Team: a Steady Track to Extended Professionalism? Teaching and Teacher Education, 76, 126-139.

Halimi, M., Consuegra, E., Struyven, K., & Engels, N. (2018). A Critical Examination of the Reliability and Validity of a Gender Role Attitude Scale in Flanders (Belgium): What Lessons Can be Learned?. Sex Roles, 78(5-6), 423-438.

Willegems, V., Consuegra, E., Struyven, K. & Engels, N. (2016). How to become a broker: the role of teacher educators in developing collaborative teacher research teams. Educational Research and Evaluation, 22(3-4), 173-193.

Strijbos, J., Engels, N. & Struyven, K. (2015). Criteria and standards of generic competences at bachelor degree level: a review study. Educational Research Review, 14, 18-32.

Lamote, C. & Engels, N. (2010). The development of student teachers’ professional identity. European Journal of Teacher Education, 33(1), 3-18.

Els Consuegra. Multidisciplinary Institute for Teacher Education (MILO), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Pleinlaan 9, B-1050 Brussels

Current themes of research:

Equity and diversity in compulsory and higher education. Teacher unconscious bias and teacher professional development.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

Keppens, K., Consuegra, E., Goossens, M., De Maeyer, S., & Vanderlinde, R. (2019). Measuring pre-service teachers’ professional vision of inclusive classrooms: a video-based comparative judgement instrument. Teaching and Teacher Education, 78(4), 1-14. (IF 2017 = 2.473, Q1)

Tondeur, J., Aesaert, K., Prestridge, S., & Consuegra, E. (2018). A multilevel analysis of what matters in the training of pre-service teachers’ ICT competencies. Computers & Education, 122, 32-42. (IF 2017 = 4.538, Q1)

Consuegra, E., & Engels, N. (2016). Effects of professional development on teachers’ gendered feedback patterns, students’ misbehaviour and students’ sense of equity: results from a one-year quasi-experimental study. British Educational Research Journal, 42(5), 802-825. (IF 2017 = 1.696, Q1)

Consuegra, E., Engels, N., & Willegems, V. (2016). Using video-stimulated recall to investigate teacher awareness of explicit and implicit gendered thoughts on classroom interactions. Teachers and Teaching, 22(6), 683-699. (IF 2017 = 2.378, Q1)

Consuegra, E., Engels, N., & Struyven, K. (2014). Beginning teachers’ experience of the workplace learning environment in alternative teacher certification programs: a mixed methods approach. Teaching and Teacher Education, 42, 79-88. (IF 2017 = 2.473, Q1)

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Appendices

Appendix 1. Factorial survey questions

Scenario 1

Suppose you only pass one course this academic year. In order to be able to reenrol for the same educational programme next academic year, the university does not impose any conditions. Next academic year, how probable would you say it is you will …

  1. 1.

    … reenrol in the same programme?

  2. 2.

    … reenrol in a different academic bachelor programme?

  3. 3.

    … reenrol in a difference professional bachelor programme?

  4. 4.

    … not reenrol in higher education (university or university college)?

Scenario 2

Suppose you only pass one course this academic year. In order to be able to reenrol for the same educational programme next academic year, the university poses as a condition that you pass at least three fourths of your courses. Otherwise, you will be excluded from the programme. Next academic year, how probable would you say it is you will …

  1. 1.

    … reenrol in the same programme?

  2. 2.

    … reenrol in a different academic bachelor programme?

  3. 3.

    … reenrol in a difference professional bachelor programme?

  4. 4.

    … not reenrol in higher education (university or university college)?

Scenario 3

Suppose you pass for roughly half your courses this academic year. In order to be able to reenrol for the same educational programme next academic year, the university does not impose any conditions. Next academic year, how probable would you say it is you will …

  1. 1.

    … reenrol in the same programme?

  2. 2.

    … reenrol in a different academic bachelor programme?

  3. 3.

    … reenrol in a difference professional bachelor programme?

  4. 4.

    … not reenrol in higher education (university or university college)?

Scenario 4

Suppose you pass for roughly half your courses this academic year. In order to be able to reenrol for the same educational programme next academic year, the university poses as a condition that you pass at least three fourths of your courses. Otherwise, you will be excluded from the programme. Next academic year, how probable would you say it is you will …

  1. 1.

    … reenrol in the same programme?

  2. 2.

    … reenrol in a different academic bachelor programme?

  3. 3.

    … reenrol in a difference professional bachelor programme?

  4. 4.

    … not reenrol in higher education (university or university college)?

Scenario 5

Suppose you pass for almost all your courses this academic year. In order to be able to reenrol for the same educational programme next academic year, the university does not impose any conditions. Next academic year, how probable would you say it is you will …

  1. 1.

    … reenrol in the same programme?

  2. 2.

    … reenrol in a different academic bachelor programme?

  3. 3.

    … reenrol in a difference professional bachelor programme?

  4. 4.

    … not reenrol in higher education (university or university college)?

Scenario 6

Suppose you pass for all your courses this academic year. In order to be able to reenrol for the same educational programme next academic year, the university does not impose any conditions. Next academic year, how probable would you say it is you will …

  1. 1.

    … reenrol in the same programme?

  2. 2.

    … reenrol in a different academic bachelor programme?

  3. 3.

    … reenrol in a difference professional bachelor programme?

  4. 4.

    … not reenrol in higher education (university or university college)?

Answer scale

0 = absolutely unlikely, 10 = absolutely likely

Appendix 2

Table 6 Correlation matrix for attributional items (n = 432)
Table 7 Exploratory factor analysis: factor loadings of a principal axis factoring with oblique rotation
Table 8 Latent profile analyses: model statistics
Table 9 Estimates of mean self-reported probabilities: latent prolife analysis with one to six latent profiles (LP)

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Cincinnato, S., Engels, N. & Consuegra, E. 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. Eur J Psychol Educ 35, 931–953 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-019-00449-1

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Keywords

  • Higher education
  • Study choice
  • Student background
  • Attribution
  • Ability
  • Effort