Learned helplessness in task-orienting versus performance-orienting testing conditions


Deborah Stipek


Patricia Kowalski

Year of Publication: 
Journal of Educational Psychology

Fifth- and 6th- grade subjects (Ss; 51 boys and 59 girls) were classified as low or high in effort orientation based on the number of items in the Intellectual Achievement Responsibility Questionnaire for which lack of effort was selected as an explanation for failure. On a computerized, 2-choice discrimination learning task, half of the Ss were given directions designed to reduce concerns about performance and to direct attention toward the task (“task-orientation” instruction condition); half were given “performance-orienting” instructions. The computer was programmed to ensure that all Ss failed to solve all four problems. Analyses of problem-solving strategies revealed that fewer low-effort-orientation Ss used effective strategies in the performance than in the task-orienting condition. The instructions did not affect the proportion of high effort orientation Ss who used effective strategies. The results suggest that task-orienting strategies may facilitate the performance of children who tend to de-emphasize the role of effort.

APA Citation

Stipek, D., & Kowalski, P. (1989). Learned helplessness in task-orienting versus performance-orienting testing conditions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81(3), 384-391.