Julian Burn

Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Lotsof, Erwin||James, William Homer

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Learning; Psychology of


Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in the psychological situation as a determiner of social behavior. This interest has led many psychologists to apply experimental principles in studying the psychological situation. One group to which the latter statement applies is that working within the framework of Rotter's Social Learning Theory. A basic statement in this theory is that the relative strength of a behavior is a function of (1) Expectancy and (2) Reinforcement Value. A third important variable is the situation which produces cues concerning particular behavior- reinforcement sequences. In this study, holding reinforcement value constant we are concerned with the effect of a situation (skill) upon expectancy changes. More specifically it deals with changes in expectancy as a function of the degree of differentiation of the situation. The experimental task consisted in placing the subject in front of electronic equipment arranged very much like a radar screen and then asking him to make contact with a target. The target in the present study was a dot presentation on an oscilloscope. The subject attempted to maintain contact with the dot sweep with an "electronic pencil.” The task can be characterized as a culturally defined skill task and thus it was not necessary to structure the task by the use of instructions. An assumption is that a "success” on the task will be perceived as dependent upon skill. This was found to be the case with males and females. Previous studies have found it difficult to find a task that could be used to compare both males and females. The procedure involved in obtaining a measure of verbal expectancy was to place the score (success or failure) under the control of the experimenter. Control of the reinforcement was accomplished by a small push button beneath the table at which the experimenter was seated. A fixed reinforcement sequence was employed for all subjects. Expectancy measures were obtained in two situations; a "single” situation in which one subject was used; and a "double" situation in which two subjects worked together on two identical tasks and were led to believe that their score was a joint effort. The results indicated that the males in the sample had significantly higher expectancies for success than females. This finding has been discussed within the framework of certain differential cultural emphases with regard to males and females. The higher expectancy of the males may reflect certain parental attitudes concerning general achievement and success in many activities. The low expectancy of the females may reflect an emphasis on being generally more passive and hence less concerned with success in activities. Some support was found for the personality variable of internal vs. external control. In a self rating on performance in the task it was found that the internals rated their own performance over that of the externals which could be interpreted as a reflection of the greater amount of generalized expectancy for success on the part of the internally oriented individuals. The situational variable was not found to be as effective as hypothesized. It has been suggested that the double situation was perceived as a competitive and achievement oriented situation rather than one over which subject did not have control. It is felt that the present study has performed in some degree the following 3 functions: (1) It has added some support for the theory in which it was based, i.e., Social Learning Theory, (2) It has complemented and substantiated some previous research in the area, (3) has been sufficiently different to add to and possibly aid future investigation.


Includes bibliographical references.


viii, 69 pages




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