From Failure-Orientation to Mastery-Orientation: A Workshop for Women

Date of Completion


Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


When an outcome is not as expected or desired, some people conceive of it as a failure. But the subjective meaning of a failure can have personal and psychological implications that are deeper than the objective meaning of an unsuccessful outcome. There are people, women more than men, who become discouraged after failing. Giving up on the task and lacking persistence are some of the characteristics of the learned helplessness pattern of behavior that is typical of these people. Psychologists have tried to understand the underlying reasons for the learned helplessness pattern of behavior. In this thesis I first review some of the theories that try to explain learned helplessness. The cognitive explanation (which focuses on the framework one uses to interpret a situation), the egotism theory (which focuses on the need to protect self-esteem), and some social theories (which focus on situational variables which influence behavior) are presented and discussed. I also examine the possible relations among the theories. Next, I review studies of individual differences in learned helplessness. Studies conducted with young children, older children, and adults have found that older children and adults are more susceptible to learned helplessness than young children. This section of this thesis examines the reasons for these differences. I also review the evidence for differences between women's and men's reactions to failure and success. Studies have indicated that women show more learned helplessness than men. As a woman I am disturbed by this. Therefore, I have attempted in this thesis to understand the underlying reasons for these differences and to find what can be done to change it, at least on the personal level. The theories and studies mentioned in the sections above support the conclusion that certain patterns of thinking (in which one jumps to an unwarranted negative conclusion from scanty evidence and fails to consider other possible meanings) foster learned helplessness. These patterns of thinking can be affected by one's level of self-esteem, one's intuitive theories about ability, as well as factors in the social situation. This led me to propose a design for a workshop that aims to change that pattern of thinking by making individuals aware of their reaction patterns as well as alternative orientations. The thesis concludes with a detailed discussion of that workshop and its activities. It shows how the use of critical and creative thinking components and the "Rotating Moderator" method can help one to perceive the outcome more neutrally as "unsuccessful outcome" rather than as "failure". The workshop also tries to change one's attitude from "failure in the performance" toward "mastery of the task". I believe that the ability to see any outcome as a means of learning and growing can lead women to be more optimistic and adaptive in their behavior.


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