Attribution theory and unemployment: Kelley's covariation model, self-esteem, and locus of control

Beryl Hesketh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The validity of applying H. H. Kelley's covariation attribution model (Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 1967, 15, 192-238; American Psychologist, 1973, 28, 107-128) to understanding the perceived causes of success and failure of others' job seeking activities was first tested in a laboratory study before testing the same theory on the self-attributions made by 82 unemployed in a field study. The field study also examined the relationship of self-esteem and locus of control to attributions for success and failure. In general Kelley's theory was supported by the results from the laboratory study but only two of the twelve predicted relationships were found in the field study. Low distinctiveness (weak workrelated skills) was associated with strong attributions to lack of ability and low consistency (past job seeking activities successful) with strong attributions to bad luck. As predicted the unemployed with high self-esteem and an internal locus of control attributed failure to lack of effort and credited their success to ability. Unemployed with low self-esteem and an external locus of control attributed success to unstable factors, but failure was not attributed to lack of ability. Possible reasons offered for the lack of support for Kelley's theory in the field study included the influence of group identity, individual differences in the perception of the stability and locus of causes, the greater realism of the field setting, and the inadequacy of the assumptions underlying the model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-109
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Vocational Behavior
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1984
Externally publishedYes


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