Individual differences in ego value of academic performance and persistence after failure


Learned helplessness and ego threat are two identified reactions to failure, both of which may result in impaired performance on subsequent tasks. Learned helplessness occurs when the individual accepts that they have insufficient ability. Ego threat follows from aversion to demonstrating low ability. We hypothesized that learned helplessness will occur when the ego value of performance on academic tasks is low, while ego threat will occur when ego value is high. Seventy-four college students experienced failure on a matching figures task. This was followed by the presentation of 15 anagrams purported to be either moderately difficult or extremely difficult. We inferred persistence from the number of anagrams on which students gave up. Students scoring high in ego value were most persistent when told the task was very difficult, presumably because high difficulty minimizes ego threat. Students scoring low in ego value persisted less when told the task was very difficult. This was consistent with the prediction that these students would be more willing to accept low ability and helplessness. The results provide support for the role of ego value of academic performance in persistence after failure. © 1989.



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Contemporary Educational Psychology