Educational Psychology Review

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 33–61 | Cite as

The Paradox of Low Academic Achievement but High Self-Esteem in African American Students: An Attributional Account

  • Colette van Laar


Despite evidencing on average lower academic achievement than White students, African American students are usually found to have higher self-esteem. An attributional account is provided to explain this paradox. This account focuses on the expectancies, attributions, and self-esteem of African American college students. The existing literature with regard to attributions, expectancies, and self-esteem is reviewed, and the findings from two recent studies are introduced. Finally, some implications for education are discussed. It is concluded that concerns over threats to self-esteem in African American students may be misplaced. Instead, the data show that African American college students experience increasing doubts that their efforts will be rewarded in ways equivalent to those of White students, and they make increasingly external attributions. The results suggest the need to address the issue of ethnicity and opportunity more directly in our educational institutions.

attribution self-esteem motivation achievement blacks discrimination 


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© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colette van Laar
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos Angeles

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