Attributions for Real and Hypothetical Events. Their Relation to Self-Esteem and Depression

Alex J. Zautra, Robert T. Guenther, George M. Chartier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


The association between attributional style, self-esteem, depressive symptoms, and general distress was examined to test hypotheses derived from a learned helplessness model and Weiner's (1979)attributional model of motivation. After answering questionnaires on depression, general distress, and self-esteem, 178 male and female undergraduate students were asked to make causal attributional ratings about 12 hypothetical events; 151 subjects also were asked to make diary ratings on 14 real events. Results revealed that attributional ratings were internally consistent across events; however, attributions about positive outcomes were either uncorrelated or positively correlated with attributions about negative outcomes, failing to support learned helplessness predictions that a single process underlies attributions about positive and negative events. As predicted, internal attributions for positive outcomes were primarily associated with high self-esteem. Only internal stable attributions for negative outcomes were related to depressive symptoms, consistent with Weiner's model. The pattern of correlation between attributions and general distress was essentially identical to that obtained with depressive symptoms. Attributions for real events were similar in their effects to ratings of hypothetical events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)530-540
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Abnormal Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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