Date of Award

Spring 1985

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Tagatz, Glenn E.

Second Advisor

Ivanoff, John

Third Advisor

Topetzes, Nich J.


The phenomenon of learned helplessness refers to the process of learning, over a series of trials, that there is no perceived control over the outcome of events. Effort is not related to the attainment of a goal or changes made in the surrounding environment. The result is a kind of personal uncontrollability. Attribution theory in motivation provides an explanation of how individuals internalize successes and failures at tasks. The locus of control construct offers the extent to which individuals perceive their successes and failures as either contingent upon or independent of their own behaviors. Learning disabled students, by definition, have a history of academic failure. They exhibit learned helplessness, accept responsibility for failure, but do not internalize the responsibility for success. Behavior modification is widely used with these students in order to improve performance by the reinforcement of correct responses. Behavior modification techniques may be counterproductive in the teaching of learned helpless students. Psychoeducational intervention was performed during the experimental phase of this research in order to decrease learned helplessness behaviors and increase internal responsibility for success in the face of composing written language (a perceived failure task). Attribution retraining in the form of self-instructional strategies was implemented in order to focus upon effort as the principal intervention with learned helplessness. Contingent reinforcement of responses was utilized as a comparison strategy with attribution retraining. Experimental research results indicated that learned helplessness perceptions are able to be reduced significantly in relation to the specific failure task of composing written language by training learning disabled students to rehearse self-instructional strategies. Internal responsibility for success/failure in academic/achievement situations was unable to be increased significantly in this experiment. Results suggested that the phenomenon of learned helplessness internalized over an extended period of time without effective intervention may create significant personal uncontrollability that could diminish an individual's effectiveness in competitive life situations.



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