Attribution Theory and Performance

Attribution Theory and Performance

Prior to beginning this assignment, be sure to read Chapter 4: Cognition, Learning, and the Environment, and read the article “Extending Attribution Theory: Considering Students’ Perceived Control of the Attribution Process”, the Instructor Guidance, and view the following website The Critical Thinking Community (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. (

For this written assignment, you will demonstrate your understanding  of attribution theory. In essence, attribution theory states that  individuals tend to make sense of (logically prescribe) situations by  associating them to self, others, thoughts, feelings, or actions. This  theory suggests that learners should consider why they do what they do,  and what or who they are giving credit for both the victories and the  failures. Further, this theory suggests that if a person believes that  they are not good at something, they may attribute their unsuccessful  outcomes to external factors, rather than to themselves. In contrast, if  individuals have success, they more often may attribute their successes  to internal factors.

Using your required resources to support, discuss the following:

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  • Describe a time where you feel you have failed and blamed someone  else: the teacher, the friend, a loved one. (Failure could be academic,  relational, and/or organizational – loss of a job.)
  • Do you believe that you blamed external things to support a more  stable version of your own self-image? (In other words, it could not be  your mistake). If not, what other reasons might external variables be  attributed for our own performance?
  • How do think stability and controllability affect performance attributions, based on our reading this week?
  • Why do you think that self-efficacy plays such a critical role in how we process our learning behaviors?
  • What strategies could be applied to utilize what we know about  self-perception and attributions to increase your learning performance  in the future? (Minimum of two strategies.)

Suggested template.

The Attribution Theory paper

  • Must  formatted according to APA style as  outlined in the Ashford Writing Center (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..
  • Must include a separate title page with the following:
    • Title of paper
    • Student’s name
    • Course name and number
    • Instructor’s name
    • Date submitted
  • Must use headings and sub-headings. See example. (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
  • Must use appropriate research methods (e.g. use of the Ashford  library) and skeptical inquiry ( to  support the content inclusions.
  • Must begin with an introductory paragraph that has a succinct thesis  statement. Visit the Ashford writing Center to clarify how to create a  strong thesis statement and what it helps you to accomplish. You may  also use the Thesis Generator (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
  • Must address the topic of the paper with critical thought. For  assistance with the critical thinking portion of the written assignment,  please see the information included on the Critical Thinking Community website (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..
  • Must end with a conclusion that reaffirms your thesis. The  conclusion typically has two parts: the summary statement (one or two  sentences that restate the thesis in a fresh way to reinforce the  essay’s main idea) and the clincher (a final thought that creates a  lasting impression for the reader).
  • Must use at least one scholarly source from the Ashford University Library, in addition to the required e-book.
  • Must document all sources in APA style, as outlined in the Ashford Writing Center.
  • Must include a separate reference page that is formatted according  to APA style as outlined in the Ashford Writing Center. If you are  unsure how to create an APA style reference page, please visit the  Citation and Reference page on the Ashford Writing Center website.
  • Chapter 4

    Cognition, Learning, and the Environment


    After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

    · Compare and contrast the stages of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.

    · Classify behaviors into Piaget’s stages of cognitive development.

    · Relate schema development to current understandings of cognition.

    · Identify and define types of comprehension-associated schemata.

    · Explain the relationship between social learning theory and social cognitive theory.

    · Summarize and explain the significance of the Bobo doll study.

    · Define attribution theory and describe its role in learning.

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    Have you ever

    · believed something as a child, only to change your belief as you grew older?

    · decided not to do something because others were not doing it either?

    · changed your behavior to match those around you?

    · changed your belief system (what you knew to be true) to match those held by your family and friends?

    · avoided something, such as a new food or carnival ride, because of the facial expressions you saw on others’ faces after they tried the same thing?

    A group of teenagers smoking cigarettes.


    A teenager smoking because others in his or her social circle are doing so is an example of a social interaction.

    In Chapter 3, you learned that cognition includes perception, attention, and memory development. This chapter introduces the complexities associated with social phenomena that affect cognition, often referred to as social cognition. Social cognition was initially introduced as a subset of social psychology that endeavored “to understand and explain how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others” (Allport, 1985, p. 3). Social cognition considers how individuals perceive and store information and form memories about other people and social events. It also focuses on how environmental interactions can affect behaviors, including learning. To be clear, despite its focus on the individual’s surroundings, social cognition is still the study of cognition; it is concerned with the role mental processes play in social interactions and vice versa.

    As noted in the text’s Introduction, researchers are not always clearly aligned to a single psychological theory or perspective during their careers. In fact, some researchers are aligned to more than one theory or perspective. For example, Albert Bandura (1965b) and Jerome Bruner (1957) started their careers studying learning from behavioral and purely cognitive perspectives, respectively, and then in later years moved toward social cognition. Several other researchers highlighted in this chapter are considered cognitivists, but their theories align with social cognition in that they rely on the environment and other external variables.

    This chapter will explore the theory of cognitive development (Jean Piaget), schema theory, social learning theory (Albert Bandura), and attribution theory. Your knowledge gained in the previous chapters will help you to evaluate and understand the new material included in this chapter. Every theory you encounter in this text is a building block, the raw materials that will help you construct a deeper understanding about learning. As you review the different aspects of the social and environmental effects on cognition, consider if and how these elements overlap with elements of other theories and frameworks you have learned about.

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    4.1 Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Develop…

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    4.1 Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

    A photograph of Jean Piaget.

    Associated Press

    Jean Piaget introduced the theory of cognitive development, which focuses on a child’s development as dependent upon maturity, experience, culture, and aptitude. Therefore, the theory places more emphasis on external factors.

    Prior to behaviorism, much of the discussion about learning focused on intelligence quotient (IQ) testing. Research in behaviorism (e.g., the findings associated with Skinner and Watson) prompted academics and psychologists to consider how learning could occur (and be improved) through the use of reinforcers. This point of view conflicted with the underpinnings of IQ testing, which relied on numerical information to identify if students were on target level, under the target, or above the target level (i.e., gifted students). It was even common to use IQ tests to align a child with a specific mental age or to suggest that intelligence was part of a child’s personality (Hussain, Jamil, Saraji, & Maroof, 2012). As cognition became the greater focus of the academic community, however, new ideas about behavior and learning emerged.

    Jean Piaget, a leading psychologist during this period, had confidence in the idea suggested by behaviorism that children reacted to their environments. But after many years of observing children, including his own, Piaget also believed that children participated in learning in a more active way. Thus in 1936, Piaget’s theory of cognitive development was introduced to the academic community, placing increased attention on the child’s ability to successfully construct schema (to review schema construction, see section 2.3). The model suggests that although the child’s age is an important factor, age does not definitively determine when a child will move through each stage of development. Rather, the theory proposes that each stage is also dependent upon maturity, experience, culture, and the child’s aptitude (Papalia, Olds, & Freeman, 2005). This dependency on external variables places the theory of cognitive development within the purview of social cognition, although some researchers categorize Piaget’s work as purely cognitive.

    The excerpts in this section are from DeWolfe (2016). DeWolfe discusses the four stages of cognitive development, illustrates each stage, and assesses some of the implications that Piaget’s theory has in education. As you read, consider how each stage of development supports an individual’s ability to form and modify knowledge and to learn new information.

    Excerpts from “Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development”

    By T. E. DeWolfe

    Overview of Piaget’s Theory

    Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, generated the 20th century’s most influential and comprehensive theory of cognitive development. Piaget’s theory of cognitive development describes how the maturing child’s interactions with the environment result in predictable sequences of changes in certain crucial understandings of the world about him or her. Such changes occur in the child’s comprehension of time and space, quantitative relationships, cause and effect, and even right and wrong. Children are always treated as an actor in their own development. Advances result from the active desire to develop concepts or schemata that are sufficiently similar to the real world that this real world can be fitted or assimilated into these schemata. Schemata can be defined as any process of interpreting an object or event, including habitual responses, symbols, or mental manipulations. When a schema (“Cats smell nice”) is sufficiently discrepant from reality (“That cat stinks”), the schema itself must be accommodated or altered (“That catlike creature is a skunk”). For children everywhere, neurologically based advances in mental capacity introduce new perceptions that make the old ways of construing reality unsatisfactory and compel a fundamentally new construction of reality—a new stage of development. Piaget conceptualizes four such stages: sensorimotor (in infancy), preoperational (the preschool child), concrete operational (the school-age child), and formal operational (adolescence and adulthood). See Table 4.1 for a brief overview of each stage.

    Table 4.1: Stages of cognitive development

    Stage Age range Description Example
    sensorimotor Birth to age 2 · Develops knowledge of

    ◦ him/herself

    ◦ the world around him or her

    · Develops understanding through sensory perceptions and motor activities (interactions) with the environment

    · Assimilates and accommodates to form schemata

    · Learns that a shaking rattle makes noise

    · Feels sensation when playing with toes

    · Learns that crying gains help/food/holding

    preoperational Ages 2 to 6 or 7 · Continues to assimilate and accommodate information through sensory perceptions and motor activities (interactions) with the environment

    · Is unable to think abstractly and requires concrete physical experiences

    · Develops language development and uses egocentric talk

    · Develops mental representations of objects

    · Imitates

    · Begins to use language

    · Uses rocks on the ground as play money

    · Believes everyone has a boat, because he or she has a boat

    · Believes there is “more” candy when it is broken up into pieces

    concrete operations Ages 6 or 7 to early adolescence · Is no longer egocentric

    · Finds abstract thought difficult

    · Develops logical thought

    · Applies inductive thought

    · Understands reversibility, conservation, and seriation

    · Does not believe that everyone has the same likes, dislikes, beliefs, etc.

    · Recognizes that Fido → dog → animal → mammal = all the same object (reversibility)

    · Recognizes that when candy is broken into pieces, it is still equivalent to the one piece (conservation)

    · Recognizes that blocks can be stacked from smallest to largest (seriation)

    formal operations Early adolescence through adulthood · Can speculate

    · Understands unique concepts: joy, love, peace

    · Presents abstract ideas and thoughts

    · Can theorize

    · Develops deductive reasoning and systematic planning skills

    · Solves word problems

    · Plans for the future

    · Counts without using objects

    · Forms hypotheses and tests them

    · Effectively develops increasingly accurate schemata

    © Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

    Sensorimotor Stage

    A baby playing with his toes.


    In the sensorimotor stage of infant development, the infant relates sounds or movements to a specific object or person.

    In the sensorimotor stage, the infant orients himself or herself to objects in the world by consistent physical (motor) movements in response to those sensory stimuli that represent the same object (for example, the sight of a face, the sound of footsteps, or a voice all represent “mother”). The relationship between motor responses and reappearing objects becomes progressively more complex and varied in the normal course of development. First, reflexes such as sucking become more efficient; then sequences of learned actions that bring pleasure are repeated (circular reactions). These learned reactions are directed first toward the infant’s own body (thumb sucking), then toward objects in the environment (the infant’s stuffed toy).

    Babies seem to lack an awareness that objects continue to exist when they are outside the range of their senses. When the familiar toy of an infant is hidden, the infant does not search for it; it is as if it has disappeared from reality. As the sensorimotor infant matures, the infant becomes convinced of the continuing existence of objects that disappear in less obvious ways for longer intervals of time. By 18 months of age, most toddlers have achieved such a conviction of continuing existence, or object permanence.

    Preoperational Stage

    In the preoperational stage, the preschool child begins to represent these permanent objects by internal processes or mental representations. Now the development of mental representations of useful objects proceeds at an astounding pace. In symbolic play, blocks may represent cars and trains. Capable of deferred imitation, the child may pretend to be a cowboy according to his memory image of a motion-picture cowboy. The most important of all representations are the hundreds of new words the child learns to speak.

    As one might infer from the word “preoperational,” this period, lasting from about age 2 through ages 6 or 7, is transitional. Preschool children still lack the attention, memory capacity, and mental flexibility to employ their increasing supply of symbolic representations in logical reasoning (operations). It is as if the child remains so focused on the individual frames of a motion picture that the child fails to comprehend the underlying plot. Piaget calls this narrow focusing on a single object or salient dimension centration. The child may say, for example, that a quart of milk the child has just seen transferred into two pint containers is now “less milk” because the child focuses on the smaller size of the new containers. Fido is seen as a dog, not as an animal or a mammal. Children uncritically assume that other people, regardless of their situation, share their own tastes and perspectives. A 2-year-old closes his eyes and says, “Now you don’t see me, Daddy.” Piaget calls this egocentrism.

    Concrete Operations Stage

    The concrete operations stage begins at age 6 or 7, when the school-age child becomes capable of keeping in mind and logically manipulating several concrete objects at the same time. The child is no longer the prisoner of the momentary appearance of things. In no case is the change more evident than in the sort of problem in which a number of objects (such as 12 black checkers) are spread out into four groups of three. While the 4-year-old, preoperational child would be likely to say that now there are more checkers because they take up a larger area, to the 8-year-old it is obvious that this transformation could easily be reversed by regrouping the checkers. Piaget describes the capacity to visualize the reversibility of such transformations as “conservation.” This understanding is fundamental to the comprehension of simple arithmetical manipulations. It is also fundamental to a second operational skill: categorization. To the concrete-operational child, it seems obvious that while Rover the dog can for other purposes be classified as a household pet, an animal, or a living organism, he will still be a “dog” and still be “Rover.” A related skill is seriation: keeping in mind that an entire series of objects can be arranged along a single dimension, such as size (from smallest to largest). The child now is also capable of role-taking, of understanding the different perspective of a parent or teacher. No longer egocentric (the assumption that everyone shares one’s own perspective and the cognitive inability to understand the different perspective of another), the child becomes able to see himself as others see him and to temper the harshness of absolute rules with a comprehension of the viewpoints of others.

    Formal Operations Stage

    The formal operations stage begins in early adolescence. In childhood, logical operations are concrete ones, limited to objects that can be visualized, touched, or directly experienced. The advance of the early adolescent into formal operational thinking involves the capacity to deal with possibilities that are purely speculative. This permits coping with new classes of problems: those involving relationships that are purely abstract or hypothetical, or that involve the higher-level analysis of a problem by the systematic consideration of every logical (sometimes fanciful) possibility. The logical adequacy of an argument can be examined apart from the truth or falsity of its conclusions.

    Concepts such as “forces,” “infinity,” or “justice,” nowhere directly experienced, can now be comprehended. Formal operational thought permits the midadolescent or adult to hold abstract ideals and to initiate scientific investigations.

    Illustrating Stage Development

    Piaget was particularly clever in the invention of problems that illustrate the underlying premises of the child’s thought. The crucial capability that signals the end of the sensorimotor period is object permanence, the child’s conviction of the continuing existence of objects that are outside the range of one’s senses. Piaget established the gradual emergence of object permanence by hiding from the child familiar toys for progressively longer periods of time, with the act of hiding progressively less obvious to the child. Full object permanence is not considered achieved until the child will search for a familiar missing object even when the child could not have observed its being hidden.

    A young child playing peekaboo with a toddler.

    Hero Images Inc./Hero Images/SuperStock

    One reason babies love the peekaboo game is because they have not developed object permanence yet. Until they go through this stage, they believe objects to disappear when they leave their sight.

    The fundamental test of concrete operational thought is conservation. In a typical conservation task, the child is shown two identical balls of putty. The child generally affirms their obvious equivalence. Then one of the balls of putty is reworked into an elongated, wormlike shape while the child watches. The child is again asked about their relative size. Younger children are likely to say that the wormlike shape is smaller, but the child who has attained conservation of mass will state that the size must still be the same. Inquiries concerning whether the weights of the differently shaped material (conservation of weight) are the same and whether they would displace the same amount of water (conservation of volume) are more difficult questions, generally not answerable until the child is older.

    Standardized Tests to Measure Piaget’s Concepts

    Since Piaget’s original demonstrations, further progress has necessitated the standardization of these problems with materials, questions, procedures, and scoring so clearly specified that examiners can replicate one another’s results. Such standardization permits the explanation of the general applicability of Piaget’s concepts. Standardized tests have been developed for measuring object permanence, egocentricity, and role-taking skills. The Concept Assessment Kit: Conservation, for example, provides six standard conservation tasks for which comparison data (norms) are available for children in several widely diverse cultures. The relative conceptual attainments of an individual child (or culture) can be measured. It is encouraging that those who attain such basic skills as conservation early have been shown to be advanced in many other educational and cognitive achievements.

    Implications for Education