The Interactive Effects of Attributional Style and Experience of Failure on Children’s Subsequent Mathematical Word Problem Solving


1 Department of Psychology, University of Zanjan

2 Department of Psychology, Islamic Azad University, Branch of Zanjan

3 Department of physical education and sport sciences, University of Zanjan


The reformulated learned helplessness theory predicts that the attributional style interacts with negative academic events, and results in performance deficits in future tasks. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effects of experiences of failure on mathematical word problem solving performance and the moderating effect of the attributional style among students. The study was conducted on 80 female sixth grade students, 40 were chosen to test the most optimistic attributional style and 40 to have the most pessimistic, based on their scores in the attributional style questionnaire (ASQ). Employing a 2 × 2 factorial design with factors of attributional style (optimistic vs. pessimistic) and experience of failure (failure vs. success), half of the participants solved easy and the other half solved hard mathematical word problems in the first stage of the experiment. In the second stage, participants of all groups solved the same set of medium problems at the same time. The two-way ANOVA showed significant effects of the attributional style and experience of previous failure. Moreover, among those students who failed in the first step, students with optimistic attributional styles outperformed those with pessimistic attributional styles. It appears that individuals who experience failures in a specific domain are vulnerable to future failures, and having an optimistic attributional style results in higher performance in solving problems. The most striking result to emerge from the data is that performance outcomes are more likely to be a function of how we explain and respond to failures as opposed to being based on our explanations for success.