Learned helplessness versus reactance: The effects of sex-role stereotypy

Academic Article


  • Both learned helplessness and reactance theories hypothesize that the effects of noncontingent reinforcement on later performance are related to the amount of experience with noncontingent reinforcement and to the subjects' expectations of control. In addition, learned helplessness theorists have suggested that performance may depend upon the causes to which subjects ascribe failure. The present study investigated these hypotheses by defining "expectation of control" as the degree of sex-role stereotypy and by assessing causal attributions. Forty men and 40 women were given either zero, three, four, five, or six discrimination problems for which they received noncontingent reinforcement; they were subsequently tested on anagrams and math problems. Causal attributions were rated after each set of tasks. The data suggested the following. (1) In general, under conditions of noncontingency, high masculinity subjects performed better on anagrams and low masculinity subjects performed worse on anagrams than subjects in the control conditions; stereotypic femininity was not related to performance. (2) Ratings of attributions for failing the discrimination problems were generally unrelated to performance, although there was weak support for the facilitating effects of effort attributions. (3) Subsequent to anagram and math performance, women rated external attributions higher following success and internal attributions higher following failure than did men. The implications for learned helplessness and reactance theories are discussed. © 1985 Plenum Publishing Corporation.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Gannon L; Heiser P; Knight S
  • Start Page

  • 791
  • End Page

  • 806
  • Volume

  • 12
  • Issue

  • 7-8