Effects of Failure: Alternative Explanations and Possible Implications

  • Margaret M. Clifford

Abstract

Is failure1 as devastating as popular opinion and humanist psychologist imply (Glasser, 1969)? Is there conclusive evidence to support the prevalent practice of minimizing the amount of failure students experience? Are the levels of success associated with the use of programmed materials, inflated grades, and mastery learning techniques ensuring optimum student motivation and cognitive development? A review of theories and research related to the effects of failure suggests that these are not naive questions and cannot be given simplistic answers. Rather, such a review leads one to conclude that educators who teach by the maxim, “Nothing succeeds like success,” at least sometimes may be doing students more harm than good.

Keywords

Task Difficulty Success Group Achievement Motivation Learn Helplessness Inescapable Shock 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Abramson, Lyn Y., Seligman, Martin E.P., & Teasdale, John D. Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1978, 87, (1), 49–74.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amsel, A. The role of frustrative nonreward in noncontinuous reward situations. Psychological Bulletin, 1958, 55, 102–119.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Amsel, A. Behavioral habituations, counterconditioning, and persistence. In A. Block and W.K. Prokasy (Eds.), Classical conditioning II. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1972.Google Scholar
  4. Amsel, A. & Roussel, J. Motivational properties of frustration: I. Effect on a running response of the addition of frustration to the motivational complex. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1952, 43, 363–368.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Atkinson, J.W. Motivational determinants of risk-taking behavior. Psychological Review, 1957, 64, 359–372.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Atkinson, J.W. Motives in fantasy, action, and society. D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1958.Google Scholar
  7. Atkinson, J.W., & Litwin, G.H. Achievement motive and text anxiety conceived as motive to approach success and motive to avoid failure. Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology, 1956, 53, 361–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brehm, J.W. A theory of psychological reactance. New York: Academic Press, 1966.Google Scholar
  9. Brehm, J.W. Responses to loss of freedom: A theory of psychological reactance. Morristown, N.J.: General Learning Press, 1972.Google Scholar
  10. Dweck, C.S., & Reppucci, N.D. Learned helplessness and reinforcement responsibility in children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1973, 25, 109–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Feather, N.T. The realtionship of persistence at a task to expectation of success and achievement-related motives. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1961, 63, 552–561.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Festinger, L. A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, Ill.: Row & Peterson, 1957.Google Scholar
  13. Classer, William. Schools without failure. New York: Harper & Row, 1969.Google Scholar
  14. Haner, C.F., & Brown, J.S. Clarification of the instigation to action concept in the frustration-aggression hypothesis. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1955, 51, 204–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hiroto, D.S., & Seligman, M.E.P. Generality of learned helplessness in man. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1975, 31, 311–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jones, Edward E., Davis, Keith K., & Gergen, Kenneth J. Attribution: Perceiving the causes of behavior. Morristown, N.J.: General Learning Press, 1972.Google Scholar
  17. Jones, S.L., Nation, J.R., & Massad, P. Immunization against learned helplessness in man. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1977, 86, 75–83.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Klein, D.C., Fencil-Morse, E., and Seligman, M.E.P. Learned helplessness, depression, and the attribution of failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1976, 33, (5), 508–516.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Klinger, E. Fantasy need achievement as a motivational construct. Psychological Bulletin, 1966, 66, 291–308.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kukla, A. Performance as a functin of resultant achievement motivation (perceived ability) and perceived difficulty. Journal of Research in Personality, 1974, 7, 374–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lanzetta, J.T., & Hannah, T.E. Reinforcing behavior of “naive” trainers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1969, 11, 245–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lee, Jongsook. Effects of absolute and normative feedback on performance following failure. Master’s thesis, University of Iowa, 1978.Google Scholar
  23. Maier, S.F., & Seligman, M.E.P. Learned helplessness: Theory and evidence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 1976, 105, 3–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. McClelland, D., Atkinson, J.W., Clark, R.A., & Lowell, E.L. The achievement motive. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1953.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Miller, I.W., & Norman, W.H. Learned helplessness in humans: A review and attribution theory model. Psychological Bulletin, 1979, 86,(1), 93–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Nygard, R. A reconsideration of the achievement-motivation theory. European Journal of Social Psychology, 1975, 5, 61–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Overmier, J.B., & Seligman, M.E.P. Effects of inescapable shock upon subsequent escape and avoidance responding. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 1967, 63, 28–33.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Piaget, J., & Inhelder, B. The psychology of the child. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1969.Google Scholar
  29. Raynor, J.O. Future orientation and motivation of immediate activity: An elaboration of the theory of achievement motivation. Psychological Review, 1969, 76, 606–610.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Raynor, J.O. Relationship between achievement-related motives, future orientation, and academic performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1970, 15, 28–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rest, S., Nierenberg, R., Weiner, B., & Heckhausen, H. Further evidence concerning the effects of perceptions of effort on ability on achievement evaluation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1973, 28, 187–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Roth, S., & Bootzin, R.R. The effects of experimentally induced expectancies of external control: An investigation of learned helplessness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1974, 29, 253–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Roth, S., & Kubal, L. Effects of noncontingent reinforcement on tasks of differing importance: Facilitation and learned helplessness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1975, 32, 680–691.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Seligman, M.E.P., & Groves, D. Nontransient learned helplessness. Psychonomic Science, 1970, 19, (3), 191–192.Google Scholar
  35. Seligman, M.E.P., Maier, S.F., & Geer, J.H. Alleviation of learned helplessness in the dog. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1968, 73, 256–262.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Seligman, M.E.P., Maier, S.F., & Solomon, R.L. Unpredictable and uncontrollable aversive events. In F.R. Bush (Ed.), Adversive conditioning and learning. New York: Academic Press, 1971.Google Scholar
  37. Seligman, M.E.P., & Maier, S.F. Failure to escape traumatic shock. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1967, 74, 1–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Seligman, M.E.P., Rosellini, R.A., & Kozak, M.J. Learned helplessness in the rat: Lime course, immunization, and reversibility. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 1975, 88, 542–547.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tennen, H., & Eller, S.J. Attributional components of learned helplessness and facilitation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1977, 35, (4), 265–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Thornton, J.W., & Jacobs, P.D. Learned helplessness in human subjects. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1971, 87, 367–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Weiner, B. The role of success and failure in the learning of easy and complex tasks. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1966, 3, 339–344.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Weiner, B. Implications of the current theory of achievement motivation for research and performance in the classroom. Psychology in the Schools, 1967, 4, 164–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Weiner, B. Achievement motivation and attribution theory. Morristown, N.J.: General Learning Press, 1974.Google Scholar
  44. Weiner, B. A theory of motivation for some classroom experiences. Journal of Educational Psychology, 1979, 71, (1), 3–25.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Weiner, B., & Kukla, A. An attributional analysis of achievement motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1970, 15, 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wormian, C.B., & Brehm, J.W. Responses to uncontrollable outcomes: An integration of reactance theory and the learned helplessness model. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, (Vol. 8). New York: Academic Press, 1975.Google Scholar
  47. Wortman, C.B., Panciera, L., Shusterman, L., & Hibschuser, J. Attributions of causality and reactions to uncontrollable outcomes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1976, 12, 301–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margaret M. Clifford
    • 1
  1. 1.University of IowaUSA

Personalised recommendations