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Perceived Causality and Goal Expectations

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The foundation needed for more advanced theory construction has now been completed. As summarized in Fig. 1–4, an attributional theory of motivation begins with a completed event, an outcome. If that outcome is unexpected, important, and/or involves nonattainment of a desired goal, then a causal search is likely to be immediately undertaken. A large number of variables affect the results of this search, including past history information, causal rules, and communications from others. These factors influence what causal decision is reached, that is, which of the many available causes is identified as appropriate to explain the outcome. Each motivational domain and specific activity within that domain has an extremely large number of plausible explanations for outcomes, but a few among these are most dominant. Figure 1–4 lists the most salient causes within achievement- and affiliative-related contexts, headed by the very prominent explanations of high or low ability and high or low effort as determining success or failure. The causal judgment is located within a three-dimensional space representing the properties of causes. The three dimensions are locus, stability, and controllability. The dimensional analysis gives the causes meaning or significance.


  • Causal Attribution
  • Aspiration Level
  • Expectancy Change
  • Typical Shift
  • High Expectancy

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In which a general psychological law is proposed linking perceived causal stability with expectancy change. Field and experimental studies support this position, and aspects of the reinforcement literature are reinterpreted.

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© 1986 Springer-Verlag New York Inc.

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Weiner, B. (1986). Perceived Causality and Goal Expectations. In: An Attributional Theory of Motivation and Emotion. SSSP Springer Series in Social Psychology. Springer, New York, NY.

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