Why do students think they fail? The relationship between attributions and academic self-perceptions

M. Bank, Lisa Woolfson

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15 Citations (Scopus)


Attributions can have a significant effect on academic achievement and students with learning difficulties are more likely to display negative attributions than their peers. In this article, the attributions of students identified as having learning difficulties are compared with those of other non-labelled low achievers, and non-labelled average achievers. Margaret Banks, MSc research methods student, and Dr Lisa Woolfson, Reader in Educational Psychology, both at the University of Strathclyde, involved 26 low-achieving students (15 identified as having learning difficulties and 11 without any such label) and 27 averagely achieving students in their exploratory study. The students attempted to solve two sets of puzzles that, unknown to the participants, were actually impossible. They then gave a reason for their failure and rated the stability and controllability of their failure. Participants were also asked to give a self-rating of academic achievement. It was found that teacher and student perceptions of academic achievement were not synonymous. In terms of attributions, Margaret Banks and Lisa Woolfson argue that teachers' perceptions of student achievement may not be as important as students' self concept. They suggest that low self-perception of achievement and negative attributions are both associates of low self-esteem.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-56
Number of pages7
JournalBritish Journal of Special Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • attribution theory
  • academic achievement
  • students
  • learning difficulties
  • self concept


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