Causal Attributions of Winners and Losers in Individual Competitive Sports: Toward a Reformulation of the Self-Serving Bias

in Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
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  • 1 The Pennsylvania State University
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The achievement oriented world of sport has been a frequent setting for the study of attributions for success and failure. However, it may be inappropriate to generalize from previous research to attributions made in actual, organized, competitive, individual sports because previous studies suffer from one or more of three characteristics which may limit their generalizability to such settings: previous studies have employed novel tasks, staged the competition for research purposes, or examined attribution about team success or failure. The present research was conducted (a) to avoid these limitations to generalizability, (b) to examine whether competitors who differ in experience or ability make different attributions for success and failure, and (c) to employ an attribution measure that does not rely too much on the researchers' interpretation of the subjects' attributions as past techniques have done. Two studies were conducted examining the attributions made by winners and losers in the second round of organized squash (Study 1) and racquetball (Study 2) tournaments. Subjects reported their attributions on the Causal Dimension Scale developed by Russell (1982). Results indicate no difference between players of different experience/ability levels. In addition, winners and losers did not differ in the locus of causality of their attributions, but winners, relative to losers, made more stable and controllable attributions. Implications of these results were discussed first in terms of the debate over self-serving bias in attributions, and second, in terms of the effects of ability and experience on attributions.

The authors would like to thank Dan Landers and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on a previous version of this paper.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Melvin M. Mark, Department of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802.

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