An examination of learned helpless responses among children engaged in physical tasks

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issuepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes


The purpose of this study was to identify whether very young children in the physical domain exhibit patterns of helplessness in response to failure. A total of 55 British children (27 girls, 28 boys) ages 5 to 7 years (M = 5.38, SD = .65) first succeeded at an age-appropriate throwing task. Perceptions of ability were assessed and then the children performed two throwing tasks at which they experienced failure. A success trial then followed; the children’s general level of affect was measured. After engaging in the two unachievable tasks, the children’s task-specific expectations for future success and their perceived physical/sport ability were evaluated. Finally, the children’s tendency to seek or avoid challenge was assessed and their perceived physical/sports ability and affect were reassessed. The failure manipulation was found to be effective. However, in terms of expectations, affect, task choice, or behavior, the learned-helplessness pattern was not evident in this sample.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2002