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Sport Psychology (PSY407)
Lesson 06
A competitive situation is defined as one in which participants expect that their performance will be evaluated
by others in some way. It is an opportunity to compete with others for some internal or external reward.
Regarding the internal and external dimensions of attributions, several lines of research have evolved. In this
lecture we will be looking at two concepts: Locus of causality, and the covariation principle.
Locus of Causality
Previously called locus of control, locus of causality is the extent to which people believe they are responsible
for their behavioral outcomes. To avoid confusion between the terms locus of control and controllability, locus
of control dimension is renamed as the "locus of causality". Locus of causality can be of two types; internal
locus of causality, and external locus of causality. People with internal locus of causality tend to believe their
behaviors influence outcomes. They believe that they are responsible for the outcome and view themselves as in
control of their destiny. While those with an external locus of causality, tend to attribute outcomes to outside
forces such as fate, chance, and other people. They believe that their outcome is dependent on external sources
and so they see themselves at the mercy of the external events.
Perhaps the person most responsible for developing the conceptual framework for the locus of causality was
Julian B. Rotter. Rotter (1966) developed the 29-items Internal-External Locus of Control Scale to measure the
extent to which people believe they possess some control over their lives. Rotter (1971) stated the following
generalities about locus of causality: (1) children coming from a lower socioeconomic environment tend to be
external, (2) children tend to become more internal with age, and (3) highly external people feel they are at the
mercy of their environment and are continually being manipulated by outside forces.
While it is not appropriate for human beings to always give internal attributions to outcomes, research makes it
clear that in the sports environment it is better to have an internal as opposed to external locus of causality.
Research suggests that an internal orientation is more mature than an external orientation.
A study noted that gymnastic coaches typically rank-order their gymnasts from poorest to best for gymnastic
meets, on the theory that judges expect scores to improve as the meet progresses. The results showed that
judges who themselves had an internal locus of control were uninfluenced by order. Conversely, judges who had
external locus of control were influenced by order. This suggests that the judges who had an internal orientation
were able to overcome the order bias and judge solely on the basis of performance.
Even though an internal locus of causality appears to be preferable to an external locus of causality, this should
not be construed to mean that all external attributions are immature. Sometimes external attributions are
appropriate and expected. For example, it would be completely normal for athletes to blame defeat on poor
officiating if their team had been called for twice as many fouls as the other team.
Covariation Principle
A person's attributions for success or failure can be predicted on the basis of the performance of others
on the same task. This phenomenon has been named the covariation principle. According to this
principle, when the performance of others agrees with the performance of the participants, attributions
will be external. If the performance of others disagrees with the performance of participant, attributions
will be internal. For example, if I beat someone in tennis whom everyone else has lost to, I will certainly
attribute my victory to an internal cause such as superior ability. Conversely, if I defeat someone in
tennis everyone else has defeated, it is very likely that I will attribute my success to an external cause
such as my opponents' low ability. When your performance agrees with the performance of others,
your attributions are likely to be external in nature (e.g., task difficulty or luck). Conversely, when your
Sport Psychology (PSY407)
performance disagrees with the performance of others, your attributions are likely to be internal in
nature (e.g., ability or effort).
Perceived Causality and Emotional Response
Emotional response to athletic outcomes occurs on two different levels; attribution free, and attribution
dependent. At the initial or primitive level, emotional responses are said to be attribution free. This
initial emotional response is given before the athlete had a chance to consider the cause of the outcome.
The initial response of an athlete to success is generally happiness of joy. The initial response of an
athlete to failure is generally disappointment or sadness.
At the second level, emotional response arise in direct response to causal attributions as to why the
outcome occurred. These emotions are attribution dependent, and are said to be distinct and separate
from the initial attribution-free emotional response. Theses attribution-dependent emotions reveal a
great deal about how the athlete feels about why the outcome occurred.
The affect-attribution relationship provides the sport psychologist with an excellent tool for
understanding the cognitions and thoughts of the athlete. Attributions are primarily linked to the
emotions of anger, gratitude, guilt, pity, shame pride, self confidence and competence. Failure that is
linked to personal controllability results in the emotions of shame, guilt, and perhaps depression.
Conversely, success that is linked to personal controllability results in the emotions of pride, self
confidence and competence.
Stability dimensions are linked to feelings of hopefulness or hopelessness. If you lose and attribute the
cause to something that is not going to change (stable cause) then hopelessness, or the feeling that
failure will continue , is the expected affective response. Conversely, if you win and attribute the cause
to a stable attribution, the expected emotional response is hopefulness, or the expectation that you will
continue to win. On the other hand, if an athlete loses but attributes the cause to something that is
unstable and can change, for example, not enough effort, then he can be hopeful that things will be
different next time with a little more effort. But if an athlete wins but attributes the cause to something
unstable, such as good luck, then the expected affect is uncertainty.
The kinds of attributions that young athletes make in response to success and failure are closely linked
to their feelings of self-esteem and self-confidence and suffering. Individuals suffering from low esteem
are more likely than individuals high in self-esteem to internalize a failure and respond with negative
Expectancy and Attribution
A hopeful individual has expectations that future contests will result in success, whereas a hopeless
individual has expectations that future contests will result in another defeat or failure. This has been
proven in the medical field too, as a hopeful patient suffering from a mental/physical disease has better
chance of recovering faster or surviving longer than a hopeless patient. Given that attributions are
linked to emotions and that emotions are linked to cognitions, we can see the critical importance of
attributions for athletic outcomes.
Learned Helplessness
Learned helplessness is a situation where an individual thinks that he has no control over the situation
and just gives up. This concept was developed by Seligman (1995) and he defines learned helplessness
in terms of the phrase "giving up without even trying". It is caused by the perception that one has no control
over his failures, and that failure is inevitable.
Sport Psychology (PSY407)
Research done on children shows that "learned helpless" children who show a deterioration of performance
under the threat of failure tend to attribute their failure to stable factors such as lack of ability. Conversely,
"learned helpless" children who show enhanced performance under the threat of failure tend to choose unstable
factors such as luck or lack of effort. Attributing success to stable factors suggests to the child that success is a
realistic expectation for the future. On the other hand, attributing failure to a stable factor suggests to the child
that failure is a realistic expectation for the future.
Attributional Training
Research with attributional training has clearly shown that planned interventions can alter ways that an athlete
perceives outcome, as well as alter actual performance. A functional attribution strategy is one in which athletes
are taught to explain the causes of a failure outcome as being controllable and unstable. A dysfunctional
attribution strategy is one in which athletes are taught to explain the cause of a failure outcome as being
uncontrollable and stable. Research with children suggests that attributional training can positively influence a
child's future expectations and performance.
Attributional training can also be effective with adults, although not as effective as it is with children. Adults
respond well to attributional training as long as their perceived competence is not too low. Athletes with
maladaptive attributional patterns give failure attributions that are more internal, stable, uncontrollable, and
global than those of the nonmaladaptive athletes.
To help athletes choose suitable attributions, the following steps are recommended:
Record and classify attributions that athletes make to successful and unsuccessful outcomes
For each outcome, discuss with the athlete causes or attributions that might lead to a greater
expectancy for success and increased effort.
Provide an attributional training program for athletes who consistently give attributions that lead to
negative implications for the future outcomes.
For best results, combine planned goal setting with attributional training.
Cox, H. Richard. (2002). Sport Psychology: Concepts and Applications. (Fifth Edition). New York: McGraw-
Hill Companies
Lavallec. D., Kremer, J., Moran, A., & Williams. M. (2004) Sports Psychology: Contemporary Themes. New
York: Palgrave Macmillan Publishers
Table of Contents:
  1. SPORT PSYCHOLOGY DEFINED:Issue of Certification, The Research Sport Psychologist
  2. SELF-CONFIDENCE AND SPORT PSYCHOLOGY:Successful Performance, Verbal persuasion
  3. SELECTING SELF-TALK STATEMENTS:Skill accusation, Controlling effort
  4. GOAL ORIENTATION:Goal Involvement, Motivational Climate
  5. CAUSAL ATTRIBUTION IN SPORT:Fritz Heiderís Contribution, Other Considerations
  7. MOTIVATION IN SPORT:Social Factors, Success and Failure, Coachesí Behavior
  9. PRINCIPLES OF EFFECTIVE GOAL SETTING:Clearly identify time constraints
  10. A TEAM APPROACH TO SETTING GOALS:The Planning Phase, The Meeting Phase
  11. YOUTH SPORT:Distress and anxiety, Coach-Parent Relationships
  12. ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN SPORT:Information Processing, Memory Systems
  13. ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN SPORT:Measuring Attentional Focus
  14. PERSONALITY AND THE ATHLETE:Personality Defined, Psychodynamic Theory
  15. THE MEASUREMENT OF PERSONALITY:Projective Procedures, Structured Questionnaire
  16. PERSONALITY AND THE ATHLETE:Athletic Motivation Inventory, Personality Sport Type
  21. COPING STRATEGIES IN SPORT:Measurement of Coping Skill
  22. RELAXATION STRATEGIES FOR SPORT:Progressive Relaxation, Autogenic Training
  23. AROUSAL ENERGIZING STRATEGIES:Team Energizing Strategies, Fan Support
  24. AROUSAL ENERGIZING STRATEGIES:Precompetition Workout, Individual Goal Setting
  25. IMAGERY:Skill Level of the Athletes, Time Factors and Mental Practice
  26. IMAGERY:Symbolic Learning Theory, Imagery Perspective. Sensory Mode
  27. IMAGERY:Paivioís Two-Dimensional Model, Developing Imagery Skills
  28. THE ROLE OF HYPNOSIS IN SPORT:Defining Hypnosis, Social-Cognitive Theory
  29. THE ROLE OF HYPNOSIS IN SPORT:Achieving the Hypnotic Trance, Hypnotic Phase
  30. PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS TRAINING:Psychological Skills Training Program
  31. PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS TRAINING:Performance profiling, Performance routines
  32. ETHICS IN SPORT PSYCHOLOGY:Competence, Integrity, Social Responsibility
  33. AGGRESSION AND VIOLENCE IN SPORT:Defining Aggression, Catharsis hypothesis
  34. AGGRESSION AND VIOLENCE IN SPORT:The Catharsis Effect, Fan Violence
  35. AUDIENCE AND CROWD EFFECTS IN SPORTS:Social Facilitation, Crowd Hostility
  36. TEAM COHESION IN SPORT:Measurement of Team Cohesion
  37. TEAM COHESION IN SPORT:Predicting Future Participation, Team Building
  38. LEADERSHIP IN SPORT:Fiedlerís Contingency Theory, Coach-Athlete Compatibility
  39. EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY:Special Populations, Clinical Patients
  40. EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY:Social Interaction Hypothesis, Amine Hypothesis
  41. EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY:The Theory of Planned Behavior, Social Cognitive Theory
  42. EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY:Exercise Addiction, Bulimia Nervosa, Muscle Dysmorphia
  43. BURNOUT IN ATHLETES:Overtraining and Overreaching, Recommended Intervention
  44. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ATHLETIC INJURIES:Personality Factors, Coping Resources
  45. DRUG ABUSE IN SPORT AND EXERCISE:Stimulants, Depressants