Extending Attribution Theory: Considering Students’ Perceived Control of the Attribution Process

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Research in attribution theory has shown that students’ causal thinking profoundly affects their learning and motivational outcomes. Very few studies, however, have explored how students’ attribution-related beliefs influence the causal thought process. The present study used the perceived control of the attribution process (PCAP) model to examine the motivational impact of these beliefs. PCAP consists of 2 subconstructs: perceived control of attributions (PCA), which refers to students’ perceived capability to influence attributional thought and awareness of motivational consequences of attributions (AMC), which refers to students’ understanding that attributions have behavioral and psychological consequences. We pursued 4 research goals and found evidence to support the following: (a) PCA and AMC are structurally independent beliefs; (b) PCA and AMC are differentially related to motivational outcomes; (c) levels of PCA and AMC vary significantly between controllable and uncontrollable events; and (d) the validity of the PCAP model where PCA and AMC related to cognitive reappraisal strategies, which, in turn, mediated a path toward an adaptive attribution style, autonomy, and subjective well-being. Students who adopted PCA and AMC experienced more favorable motivational outcomes than students who adopted 1 or neither of the beliefs. The results suggest that these attribution-related beliefs enhance the quality of students’ causal thinking and help to sustain a sense of autonomy and well-being.

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