A Qualitative Analysis on the Occurrence of Learned Helplessness among EFL Students

Liwei Hsu


This study seeks to provide some comprehensive information on EFL students’ learned helplessness when
learning English, by exploring the causal relationship between three variables: failure to learn English,
personality traits and intrinsic/extrinsic motivation. Eighteen students and two English teachers participated in
this study with a gatekeeper’s consent. This was done mainly through focus group interviews. The data was
elicited from the NEO-FI Personality Trait Inventory with a cross analysis done on the in-depth interviews. The
findings indicate that students with different personality traits do regard their failure to learn English in different
ways. This in turn, leads to various influences that decrease their intrinsic motivation. The intrinsic motivation
for all of the participants is inevitably affected by failure, but learners with a neuroticism trait are the most
sensitive to failure. Therefore, these are the students who are most susceptible to experiencing learned
helplessness when learning English, while students with traits of openness, extraversion and agreeableness can
reactivate their extrinsic motivation when appealed to by external incentives. However, this study also
discovered that there was a mismatch between a teacher’s judgment on student amotivation and the student’s
self-assessment of his/her motivation to learn English.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/jedp.v1n1p162

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Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology   ISSN 1927-0526 (Print)   ISSN 1927-0534 (Online)

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