An analysis of learned helplessness: II. The processing of success

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1980 Nov;39(5):940-52. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.39.5.940.


Helpless children attribute their failures to lack of ability and view them as insurmountable. Mastery-oriented children, in contrast, tend to emphasize motivational factors and to view failure as surmountable. Although the performance of the two groups is usually identical during success of prior to failure, past research suggests that these groups may well differ in the degree to which they perceive that their successes are replicable and hence that their failures are avoidable. The present study was concerned with the nature of such differences. Children performed a task on which they encountered success and then failure. Half were asked a series of questions about their performance after success and half after failure. Striking differences emerged: Compared to mastery-oriented children, helpless children underestimated the number of success (and overestimated the number of failures), did not view successes as indicative of ability, and did not expect the successes to continue. subsequent failure led them to devalue ;their performance but left the mastery-oriented children undaunted. Thus, for helpless children, successes are less salient, less predictive, and less enduring--less successful.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Child
  • Cognition
  • Form Perception
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Problem Solving