Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts




36 college students participated in a study to determine the role of causal attributions of success and failure on the modification of self-esteem. Although Brockner (1979) has suggested that the key to augmenting self-esteem is the increasing of positive self-evaluation that follows success, several studies suggest that it is not the positive self-evaluation after success but the negative self-evaluations after failure that are crucial in determining one's level of self-esteem. Thus it was hypothesized in the present study that if external attributions were made for failures while internal attributions for success were maintained, self-esteem would increase. Subjects high and low in self-esteem were given instructions designed to influence their attributions for the outcome of individual trials on a task in which they were led to believe that their overall performance had been superior. Cognitions following each trial were measured by a thought listing procedure. A no-instruction control group and a group, which had been instructed to make internal attributions after success, showed no change in self-esteem. However, both the high and low self-esteem subjects that had been instructed to attribute failure to external factors and success to internal factors showed such a change. The self-esteem of the high self-esteem grot1p decreased while the self-esteem of the low self-esteem group increased. These results were discussed in terms of a reconceptualization of the differences in performance outcome attributions by individuals high and low in self-esteem.