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Bernard Weiner (born 1935) is an American social psychologist known for developing a form of attribution theory which explains the emotional and motivational entailments of academic success and failure. Bernard Weiner got interested in the field of attribution after first studying achievement motivation. He used TAT to identify differences in people’s achievement needs and then turned to the study of individual issues people face when they think of their own successes and failures. One of his students, Linda Beckman, came up with this topic, and from then on, Bernard Weiner carried on further investigation which led him to a road of the cognitive processes that have motivational influence. Being a three-stage process, attribution theory explains the causes of an event or behavior. The three stages include observations and determination of behavior, and attributing to causes. There are two types of attributions; external and internal. External attribution relates causality to outside agents, whereas, internal attribution assigns the person himself for any behavior. In one of his interviews in 1996, Bernard Weiner was asked the following: "How does attribution contribute to high ability, high achievement, and giftedness?" His answer is the proceeding paragraph.
There are two perspectives to consider: self-perception and the perception of others. Certain attributions are maladaptive in that they are likely to reduce achievement strivings. Among these are attributions of failure to lack of ability, which produce low expectancies of future success (tied to the stability dimension of causality), low self-esteem (linked with the locus dimension), and humiliation and shame (because these are perceived as uncontrollable). On the other hand, failure ascribed to insufficient effort results in maintenance of expectancy of success and guilt, both motivators. Continuing commerce with the task increases specific ability (which is unstable, as opposed to underlying "intelligence" which is perceived as stable). Thus, by influencing task persistence, attributions also influence actual task ability. The same is true from the perspective of others. If I ascribe your failure to low ability, then I (as teacher) offer sympathy, do not punish for failure, and give unsolicited help. All these are cues that you "cannot," which starts the cycle indicated above. So other-perception and self-perception form a unity, together, which influence task persistence and, therefore, actual ability. Some of this is captured in the false-expectancy literature.
A product of Chicago's public schools, he received his undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Chicago n 1955 and an MBA, majoring in Industrial Relations, from the same university in 1957. Following two years of service in the U.S. Army, Weiner enrolled in a PhD program in personality at the University of Michigan, where he was mentored by John Atkinson, one of the leading personality and motivational psychologists of that era. Weiner completed his PhD from Michigan in 1963, spent two years as an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota before joining the psychology faculty at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1965, where he remained active into the early 2000s.
Weiner has published 15 books and many articles on the psychology of motivation and emotion, and has been a Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles for many years. His contributions including linking attribution theory, the psychology of motivation, and emotion. He is the author of An Attributional Theory of Motivation and Emotion. For example, he believes that throughout education, we all have similar psychodynamics in the classroom; students tend to seek explanation for personal failure. He is the father of Mark Weiner, a professor of law at Rutgers School of Law–Newark. Bernard raised the question on what is considered "sin" and what is "sickness." The construals he gave surrounded obesity: obesity due to overeating is a sin; obesity because of a thyroid problem is a sickness. Bernard hoped that these type of scenarios would help him come up with a general theory of social conduct.
For over 30 years, the fields of personality and social psychology have been influenced by the work of Bernard Weiner. His attribution theory of motivation and emotions has contributed greatly to the educational psychologist's understanding of how perceived causation influences motivation, behavior, and emotions. This theory has been applied to a wide range of topics and has been supported by numerous empirical studies.c Today, Dr. Weiner can be reached at the University of California, Los Angeles, Psychology Department, Franz Hall, Los Angeles, California 90024, where he continues his work on the attribution theory and motivation.
Professor Weiner's primary research interests are Social Cognition, Helping, Prosocial Behaviour, Judgment and Decision Making, Motivation, Goal Setting, Causal Attribution, Law and Public Policy, Interpersonal Processes and Emotion, Mood, Affect.
Siegal, J. Shaughnessy, M.(1996). An interview with Bernard Weiner. Educational Psychology Review. 8(2), 165-174.