Gender differences in causal attributions and emotions for imagined success and failure on examinations were investigated. Males made stronger ability attributions for success than females, whereas females emphasized the importance of studying and paying attention. Males more than females attributed failure to a lack of studying and low interest, but females were more likely than males to blame an F on a lack of ability. Females experienced stronger emotions than did males; they felt happier than males did after success but felt more like a failure than did males after imagining receiving an F on an examination. Some of the gender differences in causal attributions, especially for ability attributions, depended on the gender-type of the subject matter of the examinations. The implications of these findings are discussed.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Alloy, L. B., & Abramson, L. Y. (1979). Judgment of contingency in depressed and nondepressed students: Sadder but wiser? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 108, 441–485.
Alloy, L. B., & Abramson, L. Y. (1982). Learned helplessness, depression, and the illusion of control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, 1114–1126.
Arkin, R. M., & Maruyama, G. M. (1979). Attribution, affect, and college exam performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 71, 85–93.
Bar-Tal, D., & Frieze, I. H. (1977). Achievement motivation for males and females as a determinant of attributions for success and failures. Sex Roles, 3, 301–313.
Basow, S. A., & Medcalf, K. L. (1988). Academic achievement and attributions among college students: Effects of gender and sex typing. Sex Roles, 19, 555–567.
Berg, J. H., Stephan, W. G., & Dodson, M. (1981). Attributional modesty in women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 5, 711–727.
Beyer, S. (1990). Gender differences in the accuracy of self-evaluations of performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 960–970.
Beyer S. (1995). Maternal employment and children's academic achievement: Parenting style as mediating variable. Developmental Review, 15, 212–253.
Beyer S. (1997a). The accuracy of gender stereotypes regarding college majors. Manuscript under review.
Beyer S. (1997b). The accuracy of gender stereotypes regarding occupations. Manuscript in preparation.
Beyer S. (1998). Gender differences in self-perception and negative recall biases. Sex Roles, 38, 103–133.
Beyer, S., & Bowden E. M. (1997). Gender differences in self-perceptions: Convergent evidence from three measures of accuracy and bias. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 157–172.
Biernat, M., & Manis, M. (1994). Shifting standards and stereotype-based judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 5–20.
Birenbaum, M., & Kraemer, R. (1995). Gender and ethnic-group differences in causal attributions for success and failure in mathematics and language examinations. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 26, 342–359.
Boggiano, A. K., Main, D. S., & Katz, P. A. (1988). Children's preference for challenge: The role of perceived competence and control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 134–141.
Brown, G. W., Andrews, B., Bifulco, A., & Veiel, H. (1990). Self-esteem and depression: I. Measurement issues and prediction of onset. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 25, 200–209.
Brown, G. W., Bifulco, A., & Andrews, B. (1990). Self-esteem and depression: III. Aetiological issues. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 25, 235–243.
Colvin, C. R., & Block, J. (1994). Do positive illusions foster mental health? An examination of the Taylor and Brown formulation. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 3–20.
Crocker, J., Alloy, L. B., & Kayne, N. T. (1988). Attributional style, depression, and perceptions of consensus for events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 840–846.
Cutrona, C. E., Cole, V., Colangelo, N., Assouline, S. G., & Russell, D. W. (1994). Perceived parental social support and academic achievement: An attachment theory perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 369–378.
D'Amico, M., Baron, L. J., & Sissons, M. E. (1995). Gender differences in attributions about microcomputer learning in elementary school. Sex Roles, 31, 353–385.
Elig, T. W., & Frieze, I. H. (1979). Measuring causal attributions for success and failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 621–634.
Elliott, E. S., & Dweck, C. S. (1988). Goals: An approach to motivation and achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 5–12.
Erkut, S. (1983). Exploring sex differences in expectancy, attribution, and academic achievement. Sex Roles, 9, 217–231.
Falbo, T., & Beck, R. C. (1979). Naive psychology and the attributional model of achievement. Journal of Personality, 185-195.
Feather, N. T. (1969). Attribution of responsibility and valence of success and failure to initial confidence and task performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13, 129–144.
Frieze, I. H. (1976). Causal attributions and information seeking to explain success and failure. Journal of Research in Personality, 10, 293–305.
Gilbert, M. C. (1996). Attributional patterns and perceptions of math and science among fifth-grade through seventh-grade girls and boys. Sex Roles, 35, 489–506.
Gilmor, T. M., & Reid, D. W. (1979). Locus of control and causal attribution for positive and negative outcomes on university examinations. Journal of Research in Personality, 13, 154–160.
Glass, D. C., McKnight, D., & Valdimarsdottir, H. (1993). Depression, burnout, and perceptions of control in hospital nurses. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61, 147–155.
Grolnick, W. S., & Slowiaczek, M. L. (1994). Parents' involvement in children's schooling: A multidimensional conceptualization and motivational model. Child Development, 65, 237–252.
Harackiewicz, J. M., & Elliot, A. J. (1993). Achievement goals and intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 904–915.
Harter, S., & Connell, J. P. (1984). A model of children's achievement and related self-perceptions of competence, control, and motivational orientation. In J. G. Nicholls (Ed.), Advances in motivation and achievement, Vol. 3 (pp. 219–250). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
Heilman, M. E., & Kram, K. E. (1978). Self-derogating behavior in women—Fixed or flexible: The effects of co-worker's sex. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 22, 497–507.
Ickes, W., & Layden, M. A. (1978). Attributional styles. In J. H. Harvey, W. Ickes, & R. F. Kidd (Eds.), New directions in attribution research, Vol. 2 (pp. 119–152). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Janoff-Bulman, R. (1989). The benefits of illusions, the threat of disillusionment, and the limitations of inaccuracy. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 8, 158–175.
Kurman, J., & Sriram, N. (1997). Self-enhancement, generality of self-evaluation, and affectivity in Israel and Singapore. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 28, 421–441.
LaNoue, J. B., & Curtis, R. C. (1985). Improving women's performance in mixed-sex situations by effort attributions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 9, 337–356.
Levine, R., Gillman, M.-J., & Reis, H. (1982). Individual differences for sex differences in achievement attributions? Sex Roles, 8, 455–466.
Levine, R., Reis, H. T., Sue, E., & Turner, G. (1976). Fear of failure in males: A more salient factor than fear of success in females? Sex Roles, 2, 389–398.
Lindeman, M., Suridvik, L., & Rouhiainen, P. (1995). Under or overestimation of self? Person variables and self-assessment accuracy. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 10, 123–134.
Little, T. D., & Lopez, D. F. (1997). Regularities in the development of children's causality beliefs about school performance across six sociocultural contexts. Developmental Psychology, 33, 165–175.
Martin, B. A., Kovac, M. L., & Hryshko, A. (1989). Causal attributions and anticipated work performance. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 4, 491–502.
McHugh, M. C., Frieze, I. H., & Hanusa, B. H. (1982). Attributions and sex differences in achievement: Problems and new perspectives. Sex Roles, 8, 461–479.
Meehan, A. M., & Overton, W. F. (1986). Gender differences in expectancies for success and performance on Piagetian spatial tasks. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 32, 427–441.
Newman, R. S., & Stevenson, H. W. (1990). Children's achievement and causal attributions in mathematics and reading. Journal of Experimental Education, 58, 197–212.
Parsons, J. E., Meece, J. L., Adler, T. F., & Kaczala, C. M. (1982). Sex differences in attributions and learned helplessness. Sex Roles, 8, 421–432.
Pasquella, M. H., Mednick, M. T. S., & Murray, S. R. (1981). Causal attributions for achievement outcomes: Sex-role identity, sex and outcome comparisons. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 5, 586–589.
Peterson, C., & Barrett, L. C. (1987). Explanatory style and academic performance among university freshmen. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 603–607.
Phillips, D. (1984). The illusion of incompetence among academically competent children. Child Development, 55, 2000–2016.
Phillips, D. (1987). Socialization of perceived academic competence among highly competent children. Child Development, 58, 1308–1320.
Rosenfield, D., & Stephan, W. G. (1978). Sex-differences in attributions for sex-typed tasks. Journal of Personality, 46, 244–259.
Rustemeyer, R., & Jubel, A. (1996). Geschechtsspezifische Unterschiede im Unterrichtsfach Mathematik hinsichtlich der Fähigkeitseinschätzung, Leistungserwartung, Attribution sowie im Lernaufwand und im Interesse. Zeitschrift für Pädagogische Psychologie, 10, 13–25.
Simon, J. G., & Feather, N. T. (1973). Causal attributions for success and failure at university examinations. Journal of Educational Psychology, 64, 46–56.
Snyder, C. R. (1989). Reality negotiation: From excuses to hope and beyond. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 8, 130–157.
Sohn, D. (1982). Sex differences in achievement self-attributions: An effect-size analysis. Sex Roles, 8, 345–357.
Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52 613–629.
Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 797–811.
Swim, J. K., & Sanna, L. J. (1996). He's skilled, she's lucky: A meta-analysis of observers' attributions for women's and men's successes and failures. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22, 507–519.
Taylor, S. E., & Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 193–210.
Taylor, S. E., & Brown, J. D. (1994). Positive illusions and well-being revisited: Separating fact from fiction. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 21–27.
Travis, C. B., Phillippi, R. H., & Henley, T. B. (1991). Gender and causal attributions for mastery, personal, and interpersonal events. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15, 233–249.
Viaene, N. (1979). Sex differences in explanations of success and failure. In O. A. Hartnett, G. Boden, & M. Fuller (Eds.), Sex-role stereotyping. New York: Travistock.
Weiner, B. (1974). Achievement motivation as conceptualized by an attribution theorist. In B. Weiner (Ed.), Achievement motivation and attribution theory (pp. 3–48). Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.
Weiner, B; (1985). An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion. Psychological Review, 92, 548–573.
Whitley, B. E., Jr., McHugh, M. C, & Frieze, I. H. (1986). Assessing the theoretical models for sex differences in causal attributions of success and failure. In J. S. Hyde & M. C. Linn, The psychology of gender: Advances through meta-analysis (pp. 102–135). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Wiegers, R. M., & Frieze, I. H. (1977). Gender female traditionality, achievement level, and cognitions of success and failure. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 2, 125–137.
Zuckerman, M. (1979). Attribution of success and failure revisited, or: The motivational bias is alive and well in attribution theory. Journal of Personality, 47, 245–287.
About this article
Cite this article
Beyer, S. Gender differences in causal attributions by college students of performance on course examinations. Curr Psychol 17, 346–358 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-998-1016-5
- Gender Difference
- Subject Matter
- Task Difficulty
- Gender Stereotype
- Stereotype Threat