A Cross-National Study of Teachers Attributional Patterns

By: Margaret D. Clark and Alfredo J. Artiles

This cross-national study examined patterns in teachers' attributional responses to outcomes of students with and without learning disabilities. Teachers from elementary schools in California (n=97) and Guatemala City (n= 59) participated in the study. Using written vignettes, eight hypothetical male students were described, four identified as learning disabled (ill), and four as non-learning disabled (non-LD). Teachers were to assume each child had just taken a typical classroom test and failed. Vignettes provided three types of information: a statement of student ability (high or low), typical effort (high or low), and disability status (LD or non-LD). Three types of teacher responses were examined: evaluative feedback (reward or punishment), emotional reactions (anger and pity), and expectations of future failure. Cross-national patterns of significant difference in teacher responses on the basis of student ability and effort and responses to the students with and without learning disabilities were found. Attributional characteristics of U.S. and Guatemalan teachers' responses are discussed.

Teacher attribution research is supported by a wealth of empirical evidence, most of which has been generated in the United States. This knowledge base suggests that teachers, as naive scientists, seek to explain the negative or unexpected achievement outcomes of their students by intuitively examining such potential causes as students ' prior achievement, difficulty of the task assigned, or effort expended to predict the cause of an outcome (Weiner, 1986). These causal factors possess three underlying psychological properties, namely locus (whether the cause originates within the person or the environment), stability (whether the cause is stable or unstable), and controllability (whether the cause is under the volitional control of the person). Moreover, controllability is linked to responsibility. A controllable cause results in the perception that the student is responsible for the outcome; likewise uncontrollable cause leads to the perception of no responsibility. Once teachers ascribe an outcome to a cause, social emotions (anger and pity) follow, which are shaped by the properties of that cause (Hunter & Barker, 1987; Rolison & Medway, 1985; Weiner, 1979, 1986).

These teacher emotions result in such behaviors as providing evaluative feedback (rewards or punishment), giving or withholding help, or offering praise or blame (Graham, 1990, 1991; Weiner, 1985, 1986). In a seminal study, Weiner and Kukla (1970) found that student ability and effort have causal properties that shape teacher affective responses and feedback to student outcomes. Weiner and Kukla found that psychology students acting as teachers rated as greatest their anger at high-ability students expending low effort, assigning them the greatest punishment, and their pity as greatest for low-ability students expending high effort, assigning them the greatest rewards following negative achievement outcomes.

Teachers' emotional and behavioral reactions to their students' academic outcomes have a direct impact on the behavior of their students, influencing children's future actions and self-perceptions (Graham, 1990). For example, the pity felt by a teacher might prompt his or her offering of a reward or unsolicited help, even when a student is engaged in an easy task. These teacher reactions might send low-ability cues to the student, which may result in the child forming a negative view of his or her own competence as a student. Conversely, teacher anger and subsequent punishment following a negative outcome may be interpreted by the child as cues that he or she is in control of the academic outcome and, thereby, a competent student.

Although approximately 50% of students in US special education programs have a learning disability (LD) label, and general education teachers in the United States (and elsewhere) are asked increasingly to teach students with LD (Artiles & Larsen, 1998; Sawyer, McLaughlin, & Winglee, 1994), little research has been conducted on teacher attributional responses to this group of students. Interestingly, there is evidence that LD may have causal properties (Clark, 1997, 1998). Clark (1997) found that general education teachers (a) tended to reward boys with LD more than their non-LD peers following failure, (b) expressed less anger and more pity toward the boys with LD, and (c) held higher expectations that boys with LD will fail in the future. Student effort mediated this pattern of responses (i.e., students with and without LD expending high effort were evaluated more highly than their low-effort peers). Moreover, on a rating scales task, teachers rated LD as internal to the child, stable, and uncontrollable (Clark, 1998). Note that the dimensions of LD are consistent with a medical (disease) view of disability and the same as the properties of student ability.

In sum, research conducted in the United States suggests that (a) teachers make attributions based on the locus, stability, and controllability of perceived causes of an outcome; (b) student ability, effort, and LD designation seem to have causal properties; and (c) perceived causal factors influence teacher emotional and behavioral responses to student performance, and these responses may have an effect on future student behaviors and self-perceptions. Many researchers have assumed that these attributional principles and the linkage between perceived stability of causes and the formation of expectancies are consistent across cultures (i.e., if a cause is perceived as stable, it is expected the outcome will be stable; Betancourt & Weiner, 1982; Fletcher & Ward, 1988; Weiner, 1985). However, despite a scarcity of cross-cultural work, evidence is emerging that questions the universality assumption. This research is important, particularly in light of the increasing cultural diversity of the US student population.

The role of culture in shaping attributions

Evidence suggests that the beliefs and values of individuals from distinct cultures can influence the perceived controllability of causes, which results in differing psychological responses to an outcome (Betancourt, Hardin, & Manzi, 1992; Betancourt & Weiner, 1982). For example, an outcome such as effort, which may be perceived as controllable in one culture, may be viewed as uncontrollable, or less controllable, in another culture, resulting in differing emotional reactions (anger or pity). In fact, research suggests that perceived controllability acts as a predictor of outcomes resulting from culture-specific beliefs and values (Betancourt et al.). However, Weiner (1985) believes the linkage between perceived stability of causes and the formation of expectancies is consistent across cultures (i.e., in all cultures, if a cause is perceived as stable, it is expected the outcome will be stable).

Chandler and Spies (1996) studied how cultural values influence attributions to 11 causes of outcomes (including ability and effort) in seven Western and Asian nations (United States, France, Spain, Germany, China, Hong Kong, Israel). They found perceptions of the controllability of both effort and ability varied widely among the nations studied. Chandler and Spies proposed that this may be the result of differences in the way individual cultures define ability, effort, and control. In this vein, Lee, Hallahan, and Herzog (1996) used naturalistic methods to examine how perceptions of control influence attributions in the United States and China. Lee et al. found that the cultural views of the individual were central to perceptions of control of causes. Specifically, Western cultures view the individual as autonomous and largely in control of individual outcomes, whereas in Eastern cultures, the individual is viewed as an integral part of a larger social context that could influence perceptions of outcomes as externally controlled.

Rodrigues (1980) replicated the Weiner and Kukla (1970) studies in Brazil to assess the universality of attributional principles. Whereas Brazilian teachers' expectations were consistent with those reported by US teachers, Rodrigues found that, unlike the US educators, Brazilian teachers tended to reward high-ability students more highly than their low-ability peers and to feel more anger and less pity for low-ability students. Similarly, Rodriguez and Tollefson (1987) studied Costa Rican elementary school teachers' expectations of students and their subsequent offering/withholding of help. Consistent with previous studies in developed and developing countries (Artiles, in press; Tollefson & Chen, 1988; Tollefson, Melvin, & Thippavajjala, 1990), Rodriguez and Tollefson found that Costa Rican teachers had greater expectations of future failure for their low-ability students. However, unlike US teachers, Costa Rican teachers were "more willing to help, would like, and would evaluate more positively a low-achieving student whose low achievement was caused by lack of effort than they would help, like, and praise a low-achieving student with low ability" (p. 385). Rodriguez and Tollefson argued that Costa Rican teachers seem more willing to aid students who have better prospects for success. They concluded that the link between stability and expectancy may be less affected by cultural factors, whereas the controllability-responsibility link, which is reflected in evaluative feedback, anger, and pity, may be more permeable to the influence of culture.

In sum, our analysis of the literature suggests that, despite a limited body of research examining whether the principles for attributional consequences differ across nations and cultures, there is evidence that teachers in several Latin American countries may place greater emphasis on ability as the prime determinant of students' outcomes, unlike their counterparts in the United States, who regard effort as playing the greatest role in shaping student outcomes, possibly because of perceived differences in the controllability of these causes. Thus, we expect that Guatemalan teachers' attributional responses will differ from their US counterparts and will resemble Latin American teachers' tendency to emphasize student ability. Moreover, because there is evidence suggesting LD has the same causal properties as ability (i.e., internal, stable, uncontrollable; Clark, 1997, 1998), we further anticipate that LD will influence US and Guatemalan teachers' attributional responses differently. Specifically, we hypothesize the following:

  1. Teachers in the United States and Guatemala will exhibit distinct patterns of emotional reactions (anger and pity), provide different amounts of feedback (reward and punishment), and hold different expectations of student future failure for students with LD as compared with non-LD students.
  2. Student ability and effort will influence US and Guatemalan teachers' emotional reactions (anger and pity), provision of feedback (reward and punishment) and expectations of student future failure differently.
  3. LD will influence US and Guatemalan teachers emotional reactions (anger and pity), provision of feedback (reward and punishment), and expectations of student future failure differently.



Data on the Guatemalan sample were collected in Guatemala City, the capital of Guatemala. This country has 9 million inhabitants, of which 50% are under 15 years (Artiles, 1995, in press; Artiles & Pianta, 1993). When last reported, 58% of special education services are directed to students with mental retardation, with 4% devoted to students with LD (UNESCO, 1991); however, the number of LD programs is growing rapidly (Artiles, 1995, in press; Artiles & Pianta, 1993). Special education programs for students with LD in Guatemala were created in the 1980's, are based on US service delivery models, and have adopted the Federal Register ( 1977) definition of LD (Artiles, 1995, in press; Artiles & Pianta, 1993; V. Ramfrez, personal communication, July 1, 1994). The creation of these services was facilitated by an exchange program sponsored by Partners of the Americas between the Guatemalan Ministry of Education and Auburn University (V. Ramirez, personal communication, July 1, 1994). Outcomes of this partnership include workshops for teachers and teacher educators, a needs assessment of the educational system with a focus on the need for LD services, and a proposal for the creation of services in public schools.

Subsequently, the Guatemalan government approved the creation of self-contained and resource classrooms for students with LD in a cluster of public schools. General education teachers in first and second grade refer students every year to multidisciplinary teams that conduct psychoeducational evaluations (e.g., academic achievement, language skills, cognitive skills). An evaluation report is discussed by the multidisciplinary team, the teacher, and the parents. Decisions are made about eligibility, placement, and educational program for each student, with periodic reevaluation of student placement and progress (Artiles & Pianta, 1993; V. Ramirez, personal communication, July 1, 1994).


Results from a previous study conducted in the United States (Clark, 1997) were contrasted to the information obtained from Guatemalan teachers. Ninety-seven general education teachers from five public elementary schools (kindergarten - Grade 6) in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties (CA) were selected to participate in the previous study. Random selection of teachers from among district-wide pools of teachers was not permitted by the school districts; rather, the school districts requested individual schools to volunteer to participate in the study at the discretion of their building principals. Eventually, intact faculties at each of five schools participated. Participants were mostly female (86%), and experienced, (mean = 13 years, range = 1-40), with a median level of education of a bachelor's degree with additional postgraduate course work. The median age bracket was 40 to 49.

The Guatemalan sample was drawn from public schools in Guatemala City. Fifty-nine teachers of grades 1 through from five elementary schools participated in the study. Officers from the Ministry of Education's special education program assisted the investigators in selecting the participating schools, and data were collected by school psychologist under the supervision of the second author. All participating schools had self-contained and/or resource room programs for students with LD, and thus, the participating teachers were familiar with special education programs, procedures, and terminology. Similar to the US sample, random selection of teachers was not possible, and intact faculty groups participated. The majority of participants were female (95%), experienced (mean = 14 years, range = 1-30), and educated (median level of education = bachelor's degree with additional postgraduate course work). The median age bracket was 30 to 39.

Unfortunately, only limited information was available to the investigators about the participating Guatemalan school and teachers. Guatemala has not participated in recent international information gathering efforts conducted by UNESCO which would have provided more information on the growth of special education in this country. Nevertheless, the two groups of teachers, Guatemalan and American, were comparable in terms of the grade levels at which they taught, age education, and years of professional experience.


Vignettes were prepared, pilot tested, and used in a previous study conducted in the United States (Clark, 1997). The instrument for the Guatemalan sample was translated by one of the investigators who is bilingual and was reviewed by a Guatemalan psychologist, who is also bilingual. Minor changes in wording and sentence construction were made as a result of the review.

The first page of the instrument contained an explanation of the task, directions for completing the task, and a statement guaranteeing the anonymity of participants. Eight short vignettes were included in the instrument. Each vignette described a hypothetical boy who had just taken a typical classroom test and failed. Three types of information having causal properties were presented in each vignette: a statement of student ability (high or low), effort in the classroom (high or low), and academic performance or program participation (whether the student was receiving special education services). Use of the eight vignettes permitted the teachers to respond to all the possible combination of these three factors. The low-ability, high-effort, LD vignette read as follows (see the Appendix for the complete text of all the vignettes):

Andrew is a student in your class. He is considered to have lower aptitude for academic tasks than most children in the class. He works slowly, but hard in class, generally finishing shortened class assignments. His family works with him at home where he finishes his homework and prepares for school. To help him be successful in language arts and math, he receives services from the Resource Specialist.

It should be noted the vignettes did not specifically use the terms high or low ability, high or low effort, or LD, but rather used language to describe the hypothetical boys that teachers might be expected to encounter in the school setting. Thus, on the US version of the instrument, the boys with LD were identified by describing their participation in the Resource Specialist Program (RSP). In California, RSP is the resource room program, primarily serving students with LD, and California teachers typically associate RSP with students with LD. To ensure participants interpreted the vignettes in this way, they were reviewed by California teachers prior to the study (Clark, 1997). Similarly, in Guatemala, where resource room services do not carry the title RSP, children were described as receiving some of their instruction from an "Aula Recurso" (resource room), as these classrooms are called in Guatemala.

One vignette was presented on each page followed by four response items. Three forms of the instrument were used, randomly varying the order in which the eight vignettes were arranged. Teachers were asked to assume each hypothetical boy was a member of their class. After reading each vignette, teachers were asked to indicate their behavioral (reward/ punishment) and emotional (anger/pity) responses and their expectations of future failure, marking their responses to the following on rating scales:

  1. What feedback would you give this child?
  2. How much anger do you feel toward this child?
  3. How much pity do you feel toward this child?
  4. How likely is it this child will fail again?

A 10-point scale was used for the reward/punishment item (Question 1), and reward/punishment scale anchor points clearly differentiated between positive (greatest reward, +5) and negative (greatest punishment, -5) feedback. Seven-point scales were used for the anger, pity, and expectancy items (Questions 2, 3, and 4 respectively). The anger and pity scales, anchor points ran from very little (1) to very much (7), and the expectancy scale from very unlikely (1) to very likely (7). Participants were instructed to mark the one point on each scale that most accurately represented their responses to each hypothetical case.

The scales used were originally developed by Weiner and Kukla (1970). Clark (1997) later modified the reward/punishment scale following a pilot test of the instrument, reducing the scale to +/-5 points to ease selection of a response and removing a zero center point in order to force teachers to make a choice between positive and negative feedback. Directions for the reward/punishment scale included the following statement:

…you are asked to provide positive or negative feedback in response to the test results. Pretend this is in the form of stars: gold stars are positive, red stars are negative. You can give the child anywhere from 1 to 5 gold stars (represented by + numbers) or 1 to 5 red stars (represented by - numbers) by marking a point along a continuum.

Verbal directions during data collection suggested teachers might also think of the scale as representing other reward/punishment schemes they might use in their classrooms such as marking papers with quantities of "happy" versus "sad" faces, giving or withholding points, or marking papers with pluses and minuses.


As stated above, the US data were collected in a recent study (Clark, 1997). In four of the participating schools, teachers completed the instrument during faculty meetings with the investigator present. These sessions lasted about one hour. At the fifth school, the instrument was distributed and collected by the school principal. The overall response rate from the US schools was 89% (Clark, 1997). Similar to the US sample, the data from the Guatemalan teachers were gathered at faculty meetings with the assistance of school psychologists who distributed and collected the instruments at their respective schools. Prior to data collection, the Guatemalan school psychologists were briefed by one of the investigators regarding data collection procedures. The response rate from the Guatemalan schools was 85%. In both countries, participants were informed that the purpose of the study was to examine the similarities and differences in teachers' responses to the eight boys described in the vignettes, but participants were blind to specific hypotheses.


The data for each dependent measure (reward/punishment, anger, pity, and expectancy of future failure) were analyzed using a 2 (nation) X 8 (child) analysis of variance with repeated measures. If a nation X child interaction was found, Fisher least squares differences (LSD; Miller, 1991) planned comparisons examined differences in how U.S. and Guatemalan teachers responded to each of the eight hypothetical boys, matched by ability, effort, and disability status. Alpha level for all statistical tests was .05. Table 1 presents means and standard deviations for each of the four dependent variables-reward/punishment, anger, pity, and expectancy of future failure for each of the hypothetical boys' level of ability, effort expended, and disability status.

Emotional responses to student outcomes

Ratings of Anger. Main effects for ratings of anger were found for child, F(1, 1,078) =44.76,p < .001, and teacher nationality, F(1, 1,078) = 34.29, p < .001. As shown in Figure 1, there was a child X teacher nationality interaction, F( 1, 1,078) = 18.49, p < .001.

Results of Fisher LSD comparisons between US and Guatemala mean ratings of anger are presented in Table 1. Guatemalan teachers reported higher levels of anger than their US counterparts in six of the eight cases, with no significant differences in anger for the pairs of boys with and without LD putting forth low effort, regardless of their ability level.

Ability and effort played differing roles in shaping Guatemalan and US teachers' ratings of anger for boys with and without LD. With respect to the high-ability boys, U.S. teachers reported greater anger for the low-effort boys (non-LD, t(1078) = -11.79, p < .001; LD, t(1078) = -5.11, p < .001). No significant differences in Guatemalan teachers' rated anger for these boys were found. A similar pattern emerged among the low-ability boys: US teachers reported greater anger toward the low-effort boys, regardless of disability status (non- LD, t(1078) = -12.17 ,p < .001; LD, t(1078) = 2.48, p < .05). However, we found no significant differences in the rated anger of Guatemalan teachers.

No significant differences were obtained between Guatemalan teachers' anger for the high-ability boys versus their anger toward the low-ability boys matched on effort and disability status. However, US teachers reported significantly lower levels of anger toward the low-ability, non-LD boys at both levels of effort (high effort, t(1078) = 2.85,p < .001; low effort, t(1078) = 14.65, p < .001).

Disability status shaped both groups of teachers' anger. US teachers consistently rated their anger as higher for the non-LD boys: high ability/high effort, t(1,078) = -2.55, p < .01; high ability/low effort, t(1,078) = -9.24, p < .001; low ability/high effort, t(1,078) = 9.69, p < .001; low ability/low effort, t(1,078) = -7.21, p < .001. However, the Guatemalan teachers ratings of anger were greater only for the non-LD boys of high ability (high effort, t(1,078) = -3.27, p < .001; low effort, t(1,078) = -2.41, p < .05).

Ratings of pity

Main effects for teacher ratings of pity were found for child, F(1, 1,078) = 18.87, p < .001, and for teacher nationality, F(1, 1,078) = 18.87, p < .01, There was child X teacher-nationality interaction, F(1, 1,078) = 5.43, < .001, as shown in Figure 2. Results of Fisher LSD comparisons between US and Guatemalan teachers' mean ratings of pity are presented in Table 1. When significant differences were detected, Guatemalan teachers consistently reported higher levels of pity than their U .S. counterparts.

As with anger, ability and effort played differing roles in US and Guatemalan teachers' ratings of pity. Both US and Guatemalan teachers consistently reported higher levels of pity for low-ability boys (with and without LD), both when they put forth high effort: US non-LD, t(1,078) = -2.15,p .05; LD, t(1,078) = -5.78, p < .001; Guatemala non-LD t(1,078) = -3.31, p < .001; LD, t(1,078) = -1.97, p < .05, a well as when they expend low effort: US non-LD, t(1,078 = -2.64, p < .01; LD, t(1,078) = -4.86, p < .001; Guatemala non-LD, t(1,078) = -3.63, p < .001; LD, t = -1.97, p < .05. However, only US teachers' ratings of pity were influenced by student effort, with higher pity for boys, both with and without LD, expending high effort: high-ability, non-LD t(1,078) = 2.15,p < .001; high-ability, LD, t(1,078) = 4.86, p < .001; low-ability, non-LD, t(1,078) = 5.29, p < .001; low ability, LD, t(1,078) = 2.15, p < .05.

Moreover, disability influenced teachers' pity only for the US group. US teachers reported higher levels of pity for high-ability boys with LD at both levels of effort (high effort t(1,078) = 5.16,p < .001; low effort, t(1,078) = 2.46,p < .05). However, for the low-ability boys, they reported a higher rating of pity for the boy with LD only when low effort was expended, t(1,078) = 4.67, p < .001. There were no differences in Guatemalan teachers' ratings of pity for boys with and without LD.

Table 1. Mean ratings of reward/punishment, anger, pity, and expectations
Graph 1. Mean anger/pity for boys with and without LD
Graph 2. Mean reward and punishment for boys with and without LD

Evaluative feedback: Reward and punishment

For teacher assignment of rewards and punishment, main effects were found for child, F(1, 1,078) = 48.58, p < .001, and teacher nationality, F(1, 1,078) = 65.42, p < .001. We also found a child X teacher nationality interaction, F(1, 1,078) = 12.55, p < .001. Results of Fisher LSD comparisons between US and Guatemala mean ratings of evaluative feedback are presented in Table 1. Figure 3 shows that Guatemalan teachers consistently assigned significantly greater amounts of reward than their U .S. counterparts. Furthermore, only the U .S. teachers assigned punishment to the high-ability, low-effort, non-LD boy and the low-ability, low-effort, non-LD boy; in both of these cases, the Guatemalan teachers assigned rewards.

Both US and Guatemalan teachers assigned greater reward and less punishment to the low-ability non-LD boys than to their high-ability peers, both when the boys expended high effort: US, t(1,078) = -3.38, p < .001; Guatemala, t(1,078) = -4.05, p < .001 and when they expended low effort: US, t(1,078) = -3.83, p < .001; Guatemala, t(1,078) = -5.99, p < .001. However, there were no differences in these ratings by either group of teachers when the boys were LD.

US teachers consistently assigned more reward and less punishment to boys both with and without LD who put forth high effort: high ability, non-LD, t(1,078) = -12.77, p < .001; high ability, LD, t(1,078) = 3.52, p < .001; low ability, non-LD, t(1,078) = 12.33, p < .001; low ability, LD, 1(1,078) = 4.67,p < .001. Guatemalan teachers assigned more reward only to the non-LD boys expending high effort: high ability, t(1,078) =4.17,p < .001; low ability, t(1,078) = 2.23,p < .05.

Disability played a limited role in shaping assignment of reward and punishment by US and Guatemalan teachers. Both groups of teachers assigned more reward to the high-ability, low-effort boy with LD than to his non-LD peer: U .S., t(1,078) = 10.15, p < .001; Guatemala, t(1,078) = 4.62, p < .001. Among the low-ability boys, US teachers assigned more reward and less punishment only to the low-ability, low-effort boy with LD: t(1,078) = 6.28, p < .001, whereas the Guatemalan teachers assigned more reward solely to the low-ability, high-effort, non-LD boy: t(1,078) = -2.28, p < .05.

Expectations of future failure

Mean ratings for expectancy of future failure are presented in Table 1. A main effect for child, F(1, 1,078) = 80.13,p < .001 and a child x teacher nationality interaction were found, F(1, 1,078) = 3.13, p < .01. However, with one exception, expectations of future failure ratings did not differ between the two groups of teachers (see Figure 4). Guatemalan teachers had higher expectations of future failure for the high-ability, high- effort, non-LD boy: t(1,078) = 3.79, p< .001.

Both US and Guatemalan teachers held higher expectations that the low-ability boys were more likely to fail than their high-ability peers, both when expending high effort: U .S. non-LD, (1,078) = -12.92, p < .001; US LD, (1,078) = -2.90,p < .01; Guatemalan non-LD, t(1,078)=-7.60,p < .001; Guatemala LD, t(1,078) = -2.79, p < .01 and when expending low effort: US non-LD, t(1,078) = -2.17, p < .05; US LD, t(1,078) = -4.94, p < .001; Guatemala non-LD, t(1,078) = -2.96, p < .01; Guatemala LD, t(1,078) = -2.37, p < .05.

Effort was important in determining expectations as well. With a few exceptions, both groups of teachers generally had higher expectations of future failure for low-effort boys with high ability: US non-LD, t(1,078) = -15.29, p < .001; Guatemala non-LD, t(1,078) = -7.01, p < .001; Guatemala LD, t(1,078) = -2.11,p < .05 and low ability: US non-LD, t(1,078) =-4.55,p < .001; US LD, t(1,078) =-1.98, p < .05; Guatemala non-LD, t(1,078) = -2.37, p < .05.

Disability influenced US and Guatemalan teachers' expectations only when the boys expended high effort. Both groups of teachers expected the high-ability boy with LD to be more likely to fail than his non-LD peer: US, t(1,078) = -14.48, p < .001; Guatemala, (1,078) = 6.68, p < .001.

Nevertheless, only the US teachers expected the low-ability boy with LD to be more likely to fail than his non-LD peer: t(1,078) = 4.42, p < .001.

Graph 3. Mean expectancy of future failure for boys with and without LD


Study limitations

Before we discuss our findings, we must note the limitations of the study. First, the use of vignettes in attribution research has been criticized because this method does not capture participants'.(in this case, teachers') attributions in a natural setting (Lee et al., 1996). Rather, responses may represent social responses or the attributions teachers believe they would make, rather than examining their actual attributions for the students they teach at the time an outcome takes place. However, we felt it was important to stay as close as possible to Weiner and Kukla's (1970) methodology because their study formed the basis for this investigation and because we wished to expand on the principles established, in part, by their work. The findings of this investigation, in turn, form a foundation upon which future investigations in naturalistic settings can be conducted. Further, we did not conduct psychometric analyses of the study instrument, and we must note that similar attribution research has not carried out such analyses. However, the results of the study should be considered in light of this limitation. Results of this study should be generalized cautiously as well, as Guatemalan teachers were drawn solely from Guatemala City schools, and the US teachers from urban and suburban schools in southern California, and thus; represent schooling in one region of each country.

Chandler and Spies (1996) discuss cultural differences (in the understanding of such constructs as ability, effort, and control. Hence, it is germane to reflect on the definitions of reward and punishment used in this study. The item asking teachers to assign reward or punishment was based on the U .S. traditional view of reward and punishment, that is, on the use of extrinsic reinforcement or penalty. By using a scale that forced teachers to make a decision about the provision of a specific type of reward or punishment, we may have overlooked nuances in the meanings attached to, or uses made of these constructs. It will be interesting to explore, in future studies, teachers' definitions of rewards and punishment or the uses they make of different types of rewards and punishment in distinct contexts.

Similarly, it is possible individual teachers may assign differing causal dimensions to the ability, effort, and disability status described in each vignette, a phenomenon noted by Weiner (1983). The reader should be reminded that these results may not reflect the range of variability in perceptions among the teachers studied. Furthermore, to date, most cross-cultural attribution researchers have examined teachers' responses to individual student characteristics such as ability or effort but as yet, have not examined differences in the assignment of causal properties between cultural groups and within groups of non-U .S. teachers. Our interpretation of the Guatemalan teachers' responses is limited to assumptions based on research done in the United States. Clearly, the need exists for research examining Latin American teachers' assignment of causal properties to causes of student outcomes in order to enhance our understanding of these differing patterns of responses.

Finally, two factors should be considered when thinking about how teachers may have interpreted the vignettes when interpreting the results of this study. First, the Federal Register (1977) definition of LD assumes students with LD to be of normal or near-normal intelligence. It has been adopted in the Guatemalan schools. The Guatemalan teachers participating in this study work in schools where LD services using this definition are provided; thus, we can assume they were familiar with the definition of LD. However, it is possible that some Guatemalan teachers might still be inclined to interpret low ability as mental retardation, particularly given the large number of classes for students with mental retardation found in Guatemala as recently as the early 1990's. Likewise, it is possible that some US teachers familiar with mental retardation might make a similar assumption. Second, RSP is a program unique to the state of California, and it was necessary for us to use as close an equivalent description for the Guatemalan vignette as was available to us. As a result, although the vignettes were reviewed by the Guatemalan school psychologists prior to use, and despite the assumed familiarity of Guatemalan teachers with LD, it is possible individual teachers might have assumed the students described may have had a disability label other than LD, again particularly in light of the large numbers of classes for students who are mentally retarded.

Students' level of ability made a greater contribution to Guatemalan teachers' rating of anger and pity. Independent of effort expended or disabling condition, these teachers reported similar amounts of anger and pity for low-ability boys (an internal, stable, uncontrollable factor). This is an intriguing finding because attribution theory holds that controllable factors such as effort should elicit greater anger as individuals are perceived as responsible for an outcome. In fact, this finding becomes even more intriguing considering that the controllability-responsibility link holds only for certain outcomes or for certain types of students? Future studies should assess the nature of the underlying causal dimensions of factors, such as ability and effort in the Guatemalan context, to shed light on this intriguing finding.

Teachers' evaluative feedback

As attribution theory would predict, both groups of teachers provided more reward to the boys expending high levels of effort. However, US teachers consistently provided greater rewards to the boys with LD, a pattern not evident among the Guatemalan teachers. Rather, there was very little variability in the rewards provided to the boys with LD by the Guatemalan teachers in response to expended effort. Unlike their US counterparts, Guatemalan teachers' assignment of reward was more likely to be influenced by ability. It is interesting to note high-ability boys with LD received greater rewards, suggesting Guatemalan teachers have some sympathy for their disability status. Yet, in contrast, low-ability, non-LD boys were more highly rewarded. Hence, similar to the findings of Rodriguez and Tollefson (1987), it appears that Guatemalan teachers were more likely to reward the students of low ability not further hampered by LD, who might be viewed as having a better chance to succeed in the future.

This finding lends some support to results reported in other developing countries (Artiles, in press; Rodrigues, 1980; Rodriguez & Tollefson, 1987), which suggest the role of effort in eliciting evaluative feedback may not be a cultural universal, as Weiner (1986) contended. Guatemalan teachers' rewards may reflect, to some degree, the apparent belief that success stems more from individual ability, a cause outside the student's control, than from effort expended. In contrast, US teachers' reported rewards reflect what is highly valued in the US mainstream culture, namely control of one's outcome through individual effort.

Expectations of Future Failure. Both U .S. and Guatemalan teachers clearly hold higher expectations that low ability boys, boys who put forth low effort, and boys with LD will fail again. However, there is far less variation in the Guatemalan teachers' expectations for the different hypothetical boys than in the expectations of the US teachers. Given the high rate of school failure in the Guatemalan educational system, the question arises as to whether these teachers possess a more pessimistic view of their students' potential for success or whether this response pattern simply reflects their acceptance of the fact that failure is a normal aspect of schooling.

Both US and Guatemalan teachers view low-ability boys with LD as only slightly more likely to fail again than their peers of high ability with LD. However, there is far greater variability in teacher expectations regarding the non-LD boys, where high-ability boys are viewed as less likely to fail and high effort reduces the likelihood of failure within ability groups. In this case, high effort may mitigate the effects of low-ability, allowing a boy more potential success.

Similarities among the teachers

Although we were primarily interested in identifying differences in the patterns of attributional responses of US and Guatemalan teachers, it is important to note the commonalties observed in these teachers' responses. Greatest anger and least pity were reported toward the high-ability, low-effort, non-LD boy, and the least anger and greatest pity were assigned to the low-ability, high-effort boy with LD. This response pattern suggests that the controllability of these causal factors may mediate teacher perceptions of the hypothetical boys' responsibility for their academic outcomes. Thus, the controllability-responsibility linkage seemed to influence anger and pity in both groups of teachers.

In sum, our findings support our prediction that teachers from distinct nations will exhibit different attributional responses to student outcomes. There is support for the contention that ability and effort played different, and often subtle, roles in this process. Effort strongly influences the anger, pity, and evaluative feedback US teachers provide for boys with and without LD. The role of effort is more subtle in Guatemala, with ability playing a more pronounced role in shaping teacher responses. Consequently, these findings lend some support to research that suggests the role of effort in shaping evaluative feedback, anger, and pity, unlike expectations of future failure, may not be a cultural universal. Moreover, both groups of teachers showed patterns of differing response to the boys, with LD compared with non-LD boys. These findings suggest LD may playa role in shaping teachers' responses to these outcomes in both nations, again in differing ways.

These findings invite more in-depth exploration of the cultural differences in teacher attributional responses. More important, this line of research has the potential to inform current reform discussions about the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms and about the preparation of teachers for a diverse society. Future investigations conducted in naturalistic settings will help us understand not only whether general education teachers favor integration, but also how they react to the academic outcomes of an increasingly diverse student population, particularly to those students with LD.

These findings may offer insights into the academic values of teachers from the two nations. For US teachers, high effort, particularly in the face of low ability, is rewarded and elicits pity responses following failure. This suggests that overcoming such adversity as a disability by hard work is particularly valued in a society in which success is often attributed to individual effort (Banks, 1993). In contrast, Guatemalan teachers were more likely to feel greater anger at the failing students of higher ability and pity for the failing student of low ability. Thus, unlike US teachers, Guatemalan teachers may view a student's ability as most likely to influence success or failure, regardless of the effort they may expend in the classroom, and express anger and pity accordingly.

The relative newness of the LD designation in Guatemala may influence the way in which Guatemalan teachers perceive children with LD. As suggested by empirical evidence, we must be mindful of the between - and within- cultural group differences in the perceptions of competence, deviant behavior, and disability (Harry, 1992; Trent & Miles, 1995; Weisz, Suwanlert, Chaiyasit, Weiss, Achenbach, et al., 1988; Weisz, Suwanlert, Chaiyasit, Weiss, Walter, et al., 1988). Therefore, researchers need to investigate variations between and within Guatemalan and US teachers' perceptions of LD and the LD label. Further, as previously noted, there is no research to date examining the causal properties Latin American teachers assign to causes of achievement outcomes such as ability and effort, possibly because of the complex methodology involved in such studies. However, it is possible, similar to Lee and colleagues' findings (1996), that Guatemalan teachers may view their students as less autonomous and, thereby, less able to control their own academic outcomes, perhaps as a consequence of such factors as the poverty that is pervasive in Guatemala's public schools (Miles & Clark, 1996).


Author's Note: This is a revised version of a paper presented at the 23rd International Congress of Applied Psychology, Madrid, Spain, July 1994. We acknowledge the support from a Lena and Dominic Longo Scholarship to the first author and from the University Research Expeditions Program (UC Berkeley), the UCLA Latin American Center, and a Career Development Award from the UCLA Chancellor's Office to the second author. We are indebted to the authorities of the Guatemalan Ministry of Education for their assistance during the data-collection phase of this study. We are grateful to Sandra Graham and our anonymous reviewers for their feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript.



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Margaret D. Clark, California State University-Los Angeles, University of California-Los Angeles Alfredo J. Artiles, University of California-Los Angeles The Journal of Special Education, Volume 34, No.2, PP.77-89 © 2000 by PRO-ED, Inc.