Ambiguity of Outcome and Causal Attributions

in Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
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  • 1 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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Previous research in the attributional analysis of individuals involved in athletic settings has typically used objective outcome as the primary determinant of causal attributions. Recent theorizing has suggested that objective outcome may not be the most adequate way of defining success and failure. Rather, success and failure may be more aptly described in terms of an individual's subjective perception of the implications of outcome for desirable personal qualities, especially ability. A field study was conducted to assess the effects of perceived outcome on the causal attributions of racquetball players. Prior to participating in a competitive two-person racquetball game, individuals indicated their expectancy of success against their opponent. Following the game, individuals rated their performance satisfaction, own competency, their opponent's competency, as well as rating the extent to which the outcome was due to internal or external factors. The results showed that the clearly perceived outcomes were attributed internally, while the ambiguous outcomes were attributed externally. The finding suggests that objective outcome may not be the best determinant of success and failure causal attributions.

The investigators wish to thank John Nicholls and Marty Maehr for their most helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

Reprint requests should be sent to Kevin S. Spink, Institute for Child Behavior and Development, Motor Behavior Laboratory, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL 61820.

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