A developmental study of children's attributions for classroom tasks

Stephanie S Coyne, Fordham University


Investigation into developmental differences in children's attributions derives from the observation that developmental progressions in the cognitive processes are involved in attributional thinking. Previous research in this area, rarely examined children's attributions for their own performance on typical academic tasks. The purpose of the present study was to examine developmental differences in elementary school children's attributions based on grade, sex, performance outcome, and task. The subjects were 117 children from grades 2, 4, and 6 attending a predominantly white lower-middle class suburban school. Children took a 40-item math test one week and a 40-item spelling test the next week. Following each test, children in groups of 5 were informed of their success or lack of success on the test. Using a 7-point rating scale, children then rated how much each of the four primary attributions (ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck) was the reason for their performance outcome. Students also selected one of these attributions as the primary reason. Teachers rated their perception of children's past achievement history in reading and math on a 7-point scale. Test-retest reliability, with a 3 week interval, indicated high reliability of the teacher rating scales and concurrent validity was established by comparing teacher ratings with report card grades. However, no relationship was found between any measure of past achievement and children's attribution ratings. No strong pattern of developmental differences in interrelationships among attributions was identified in the analysis. In general, children's attributions were found to be unrelated factors. Analysis of attribution ratings indicated that, at all grade levels, ability and effort were rated higher as reasons for success than as reasons for failure. Minimal grade differences in attributions were seen. Young childrens' attribution ratings tended to be higher than older childrens' ratings. No pattern of grade differences was seen in singular attribution choice but, in general, children chose ability as the reason for successful performance. The difference between these results and those of previous studies points to the need for further research in this area utilizing typical academic tasks in the familiar classroom setting. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.)

Subject Area

Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Coyne, Stephanie S, "A developmental study of children's attributions for classroom tasks" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8813571.