Weiner, Bernard 1935-
Bernard Weiner was born in 1935 in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of three sons of Russian immigrants. A product of Chicago's public schools, he received his undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Chicago in 1955 and an MBA, majoring in Industrial Relations, from the same university in 1957. Following two years of service in the U.S. Army, Weiner enrolled in a PhD program in personality at the University of Michigan, where he was mentored by John Atkinson, one of the leading personality and motivational psychologists of that era. Weiner completed his PhD from Michigan in 1963, spent two years as an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota before joining the psychology faculty at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1965, where he remained active into the early 2000s.
Drawing on his intellectual roots in the field of motivation, Weiner was a leader in the study of attribution theory, one of the major theories of motivation in contemporary psychology. Attribution theory is concerned with the perceived causes of success and failure— for example, did a student fail an important test because of low aptitude or lack of effort—and the motivational consequences of particular attributions. Fundamental to attribution theory are the properties of causes (including their locus in the person or the world, perceived stability, and controllability), causal linkages to emotions and expectancy of success, and achievement performance.
For example, lack of aptitude is perceived to be an internal, stable, and uncontrollable cause of failure. Being internal to the person, this attribution for failure reduces self-esteem; since it is stable, expectancy of future success is low; and because it is uncontrollable, feelings of shame are evoked. Low esteem, low expectancy, and shame give rise to poor performance. The factor of aptitude contrasts with lack of effort as the perceived cause of failure, which is unstable (thereby leading to high expectancy) and controllable (evoking guilt, a motivator of achievement rather than shame, an inhibitor). Attributional analyses help explain how individuals interpret their own achievement outcomes, but also the reactions of others. For example, teachers are likely to evaluate the failing student differently if his or her failure is perceived to be caused by low ability versus lack of effort. Thus attribution theory is both an intrapersonal theory of motivation (how one thinks about oneself) and an interpersonal theory of motivation (how others think about one).
Attribution theory provided educational psychology with the theoretical foundation for attribution retraining programs. Such programs are designed to improve motivation and achievement by changing maladaptive attributions for failure. For example, many attribution retraining studies with participants from elementary school through college have documented that students who are taught to attribute their failure to low effort rather than low aptitude are more likely to be optimistic about the future and to persist longer when they encounter academic challenges.
Weiner enjoyed an illustrious career as an attribution theorist. While he is best known to educational psychologists for his attribution research in the achievement domain, he also incorporated other social phenomena such as reactions to the stigmatized, help giving, aggression, excuse giving, punishment, and moral emotions. These phenomena are as relevant to educational psychology and classroom learning as the earlier attribution research on achievement strivings. Few other theories of motivation are amenable to such breadth of application.
As of 2008, Weiner had authored 13 books and published more than 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Donald Campbell Research Award in Social Psychology from the American Psychological Association and the Palmer O. Johnson Publication Award from the American Educational Research Association. He holds honorary degrees from the Bielefeld University in Germany and Turku University in Finland.
Weiner is a recipient of a Distinguished Teaching Award from UCLA, a testament to his extraordinary ability to mentor students. Among his best known students who have had a significant impact in the field of education psychology are Jacqueline Eccles and Diane Ruble. His most frequent collaborator is a former student, Sandra Graham, also a colleague at UCLA.
See also:Attribution Theory
Weiner, B. (1980). Human motivation. New York: Holt-Rinehart, & Winston. (Reprinted by Springer-Verlag, 1985; Erlbaum, 1989.)
Weiner, B. (1986). An attributional theory of motivation and emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Weiner, B. (1992). Human motivation: Metaphors, theories and research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Weiner, B. (1995). Judgments of responsibility: A foundation for a theory of social conduct. New York: Guilford.
Weiner, B. (2006). Social motivation, justice, and the moral emotions. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
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