This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Learned Helplessness as a Moderator in SES Stereotype Threat and Academic/Intellectual Disengagement




Turchan, Joshua

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Special Education, Rehabilitation, Counseling

Restriction Status


Restriction Type

Auburn University Users

Date Available



On average fewer lower-SES students graduate from college compared to their higher-SES peers. SES-stereotype threat researchers have found evidence that when faced with a stereotype regarding SES, lower-SES students’ academic/intellectual performance is negatively affected. Some research has shown that learned helplessness attributional styles may negatively affect the academic performance of college students in general. Additionally, disengagement of identity from academic/intellectual tasks/tests is a way underrepresented groups may maintain their self-esteem when faced with a stereotype. This process of disengagement from academic/intellectual tasks/tests may modify the way stigmatized students identify with these domains which in turn may negatively affect their academic/intellectual performance/persistence. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate learned helplessness, in a stereotype threat paradigm, as a potential moderator of the relationship between SES and task performance as well as the relationship between SES and academic/intellectual disengagement and state performance self-esteem using hierarchical regression. Participants included 238 undergraduate students from multiple universities. Results showed that the stereotype prime was ineffective at creating differences in task performance or disengagement measures. Furthermore, results showed there was not a significant interaction between test-diagnosticity, learned helplessness, and SES. Results did show a relationship between SES and one aspect of disengagement-discounting despite the inefficacious prime. Learned helplessness was related to two aspects of disengagement: devaluing and state performance self-esteem. Possible explanations for the inefficacy of the stereotype prime to elicit differences in the dependent measures are discussed, as are the implications of relationship between other variables studied.