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Pattern of performance and ability attribution: An unexpected primacy effect

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Investigated the effects of varying distributions of success and failure on attributions of intellectual ability. In Exp. I-IV undergraduate Ss confronted a stimulus person who solved 15 out of 30 problems in a random, descending, or ascending success pattern. In Exp. V only the descending and ascending patterns were compared. Contrary to prediction, the performer who showed improvement (ascending success) was not consistently judged to be more able than the performer with randomly spaced successes. The performer with a descending success rate, however, was consistently judged to be more intelligent and was expected to outperform those with either ascending or random patterns. Memory for past performance was uniformly distorted in favor of recalling more success for the descending performer and less success for the ascending and random performers. Neither this measure nor ratings of intelligence required, for their discriminating effects, that S himself solve the problems in parallel with the person being judged. In the final experiment S himself performed in an improving, deteriorating, or random but stable fashion, and estimated his future performance. Under these circumstances, the ascending performer was more confident about his ability than the descending or random performer, reversing the picture of the 1st 5 experiments. Results are discussed in terms of the salience of early information in attributing ability and the role of social comparison processes. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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