Too many people do not reach their greatest potential because the fear of failure inhibits them from taking chances, they are too concerned about what others may think of them and they do not take responsibility for their lives. Fear of failure, or “hostile press” as it is sometimes termed, identifies energy withholding associated with concerns of not being successful in one’s efforts; it may have diverse motivations.
Fear of failure refers to the anticipatory feeling of uneasiness, apprehension, dread, and anxiety about attempting a difficult task, failing, and appearing incompetent (Atkinson, 1978). Fear of failing, or more precisely the desire to reduce anxiety over failing, serves to dampen the enthusiasm for achievement and stimulates affected individuals to avoid achievement-oriented tasks completely, or to withdraw from such tasks if success is not immediately forthcoming. It is also the case that the fear and foreboding over possible failure may become a self-fulfilling prophecy if demanding tasks are not avoided. Heightened apprehension over substandard performance can increase anxiety to such a level that it interferes with performance on difficult tasks (Schneider, ; Smith, 2004).
Like its more extensively studied counterpart, FOF (fear of failure) has been found to be a complex mixture of multiple components. A research identified a “failure threatened” personality, who may cope by taking on very low or very high levels of task difficulty (the former assuring “success,” the latter, “excusable” failure). FOF concerns a perception that one will not be able to reach a desired or previously set goal or desired success (and that one will therefore be a failure, especially in the eyes of others. Failure experiences can result in lowered self-esteem, a perception (or reality) of external punishment, and a sense of decreased social value. Anxiety and worry, resulting in day-to-day dysphoria and avoidance behavior, become associated with the experience of failure and the tendency to avoid situations in which one may not succeed; low self-esteem may result, and the self-concept may become less stable. FOF has been demonstrated to be associated with academic and (to a lesser extent) adult achievement problems. Conceptually, the literature differentiates between FOF that is failure avoidant and FOF that is driven by the desire to succeed. When one expects failure, one may avoid it as being an aversive experience; when one wants very badly to succeed, the fear of failure may exceed the expected benefits associated with the desired success.
The person generally high on FOF measures may cease to try; may try to reach a goal using inappropriate strategies such as spending too long on a task, particularly in situations in which achievement motivation is likely to be aroused; or may set goals within an overly restricted range. Alternatively, the individual may withdraw prematurely from a goal or may make riskier, “go-for-broke” decisions, raising the probability of failure.
From a psychodynamic viewpoint, although FOS (fear of success) and FOF may both result in task avoidance or undercommitment, the psychological dynamics of the two constructs appear to differ. People high in FOF may be more likely to be motivated by failure avoidance and may protect themselves by ascribing negative attributions to others. Individuals who are high in FOF may become more concerned with favorable impression management than with problem-solving efforts that might result in task accomplishment. They may fail to initiate role-appropriate behavior or to take appropriate steps that would lead to fulfilling an achievement-oriented goal.
There are a number of measures of FOF. There appears to be a sex difference, with women on average scoring higher on many measures of FOF, although the issue has been less well-examined than it has for the FOS variable. Like FOS, FOF has been studied in reference to other personality constructs and correlates predictably with such variables as LOC and Type A behavior. Researches have expressed a need for achievement to be independent of FOF. Environmental factors (e.g., absence of father in the home while growing up; voluntarily placing oneself in publicly competitive situations) may also be associated with higher levels of FOF. In one of the few studies in the literature dealing with FOF in an adult employed population, FOF scores to be highly correlated with scores on a neuroticism variable. The pattern of these findings, although limited, suggests that configuration analysis rather than single-variable study is probably the most productive route for future research.
I. LEARNING ; CONDITIONING
The term conditioning as it is used in present-day psychology refers to two procedures, known as classical conditioning and instrumental conditioning. The first of these procedures derives from the early work of Pavlov; the latter stems from that of Bechterev and Thorndike. Together these two simple experiments, with their superstructures of theory, have had a profound effect upon the history of psychology and its related sciences.
The classical conditioning experiment is familiar to every student of physiology and psychology. When meat powder is placed in a dog’s mouth, saliva flows in response to this unconditioned stimulus (UCS). This natural and relatively automatic behavior is called an unconditioned reflex or unconditioned response (UCR). An incidental stimulus, such as the sound of a ringing bell, does not at first result in the flow of saliva. If the bell sounds each time just before the food is presented, however, it soon comes to elicit salivation. The new response to the bell is called a conditioned reflex or conditioned response (CR), and the bell is called a conditioned stimulus (CS). A relationship (association) has been established between the bell and food, so that a response resembling the one originally made to the food is now made to the bell.
Classical Conditioning can very well be related to fear of failure in a way that if a person has had an experience of failing in a particular subject for example, he feels depressed and experience anxiety, which is unconditioned stimulus and unconditioned response respectively. Now when the person wants to reappear in the same exam, he will again feel the same anxiety and experience fear of failure which becomes a conditioned stimulus and a conditioned response respectively.
Learning is also very well related to the fear of failure as when a person undergoes a particular experience, and if that experience consists of a failure, one may learn from it. If the lesson learnt is a negative one, it will leave a bad impact on one’s approach and he or she will experience fear of failure.
Definitions of learning are of two different general sorts which we will refer to as factual and theoretical definitions. The factual definitions are all alike in that they relate the phenomenon of learning to observable events in the physical world. The theoretical definitions describe the essential conditions or the basic processes which the writer believes to be necessary for learning to occur.
As regards the factual definitions, there has always been general agreement among authorities on the subject that learning refers to a more or less permanent change in behavior which occurs as a result of practice. In such a statement, both the dependent variable (changes in behavior) and the independent variable (practice) are reasonably objective. The term learning itself has the status of an intervening, unobserved variable linking these two sets of observables. Several expressions of this general point of view selected from the writings of psychologists of very different theoretical opinions are the following:
Learning, as we measure it, is a change in performance which occurs under conditions of practice. (McGeoch and Irion, 1952)
Learning is a more or less permanent incremental modification of behavior which results from activity, special training, or observation. (Munn, 1955)
We can define learning as that process which manifests itself by adaptive changes in individual behavior as a result of experience. (Thorpe, 1956) Any more than transient modification of behavior which presumably results from past experience and not from known organic change. (Wenger, Jones, and Jones, 1956)
Theoretical definitions of learning either offer some hypothesis regarding the “true” nature of learning or propose some general condition as theoretically essential for learning. These definitions tend to be less closely tied to empirical observation than the factual definitions. The theoretical definitions are of special interest, however, because differences among them implicitly represent many of the issues on which theorists of learning are divided.
First of all we find that some of these theoretical definitions describe learning in the language of neurophysiology, suggesting that learning must be understood in such terms. Other definitions are completely without neuron-physiological reference. Proponents of these theories often hold that such speculation is neither necessary nor desirable.
Second, some theoretical definitions of learning describe the process in perceptual terms as a reorganization of the world of the learner. As a result of learning according to these definitions, the learner sees among events (stimuli) relationships which had not previously existed for him. For this reason, these definitions present what has come to be called a stimulus-stimulus (S-S) or cognitive conception of learning. As such they are opposed to S-R definitions, and to related S-R theories, in which learning consists in the establishment of new associations between stimuli and responses (Levine, 1971).
Third, theoretical definitions differ with respect to their interpretation of the nature of reinforcement. Some hold that learning occurs only when the response to be learned is followed by the satisfaction of some motive. Others maintain, by contrast, that all that is necessary for learning to occur is for some response to be elicited in a particular situation, or for the situation to be perceived in a new way.
II. ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY
When a person’s mind becomes too much occupied with the fear of failure, he or she might develop an abnormal behavior which as a result will not let him be successful in anything he does. In such a type of a case, studying abnormal psychology is of great help as it gives out many ways to treat such kind of a phobia.
Abnormal psychology” is, of course, concerned with abnormal mental processes. But this is a vague statement unless it is very clear what is meant by “abnormal,” by “mental” and by “processes.” Moreover, the whole phrase “abnormal psychology” may be contrasted with certain other phrases, relating to subjects of a collateral nature, which often overlap one another. It is not enough to say that abnormal psychology deals with abnormal mental processes, for so also do psychiatry, mental hygiene, psychical research, psychoanalysis, and clinical psychology. Indeed, much of what is known as literature is chiefly concerned with abnormal experiences and relations, since many writers and readers agree that ordinary feelings and situations are scarcely worth literary portrayal. How in general does abnormal psychology differ from these closely related subjects?
Psychiatry, to begin with, is historically a semi-medical subject; it is legitimately occupied with the diagnosis, treatment, and relief of suffering, disorder, and disease. Psychiatrists are at present usually medically trained, with a background of anatomy, physiology, chemistry, pharmacology, obstetrics, with special emphasis on neurology, and the bearing of recognizable disease or other pathological conditions on conduct and responsibility. Psychiatry is therefore a practical but technical art, not a science; in common with other branches of medicine, it must look to the findings of many sciences for its information and guidance, both in institutional and private practice. It is, because of its practical status, likely to be much concerned with problems of classification, official labeling, technical diagnostic procedure, methods of therapy, in so far as these are made possible by medical training and experience.
There have always been “happiness experts”–philosophers, moralists, priests, teachers, and sages–who have sought to prescribe the rules for comfort, prosperity, peace of mind, and long life, either now or in the world to come. But in the past these rules of conduct have scarcely been based on scientific observation; they have seldom been susceptible of demonstration by the rigid canons of proof; they have instead represented creeds, articles of faith, individual ideals. They have often been dictated by the comfort of others, rather than by insight into the welfare of the individual admonished. As scientific observation of human behavior and development has accumulated, it has given rise to the hope that rules or principles of conduct might be formulated which might serve to maintain the health of those whose adjustments are initially stable and sound. Such rules of living would be directed toward the prevention of abnormality or maladjustment, or toward its reduction or alleviation or compensation in the case of those for whom complete correction or cure might be found impossible.
The one signal thing that can be done about abnormality is to understand it. Even when abnormality cannot be modified, to understand it usually solves half of its problem. It is especially important that a sensible and matter-of-fact knowledge replace the all too prevalent taboo with respect to mental abnormalities. Men and women glory in their rheumatism and boast of their indigestion; their stories of major surgical operations rival one another. But any suspected mental disorder is concealed, repudiated, euphemistically named, or considered a special ignominy. Surgeons are fashionable, but clinical psychologists and psychiatrists are shurined. Heart patients hold fashionable salons for their friends; mental patients seek instead a “retreat,” and do not announce their address. But mental hygiene calls for as matter-of-fact an attitude toward psychological ills as toward bodily infirmities and accidents. A considerable part of individual mental hygiene consists merely in the development of an objective, matter-of-fact attitude toward one’s subjective or overt idiosyncrasies (Aronson, Osherow, 1980).
Another practical value of knowledge of abnormal psychology lies in the increasing opportunities for its occupational and professional use. Psychiatry is gradually becoming a well-recognized medical or semi-medical specialty. Mental hygiene programs and procedures are accorded a place in industry, in the schools, in the work of the church. Clinical psychology is recognized under the civil service, and psychologists are widely employed in educational systems, in hospitals, in the courts, reformatories, and even in the army. Professional consultants and advisers in applied psychology and in re-education are most of all engaged with the adjustment of situations arising out of abnormal mental conditions. The practical value of this subject may therefore be found in solving one’s own personal problems, in adjusting to the mental abnormalities of others, and in the professional use of such knowledge.
Mental abnormalities are not unique or new phenomena, but only exaggerations or defects or irregularities of normal tendencies. The study of the abnormal deviation throws light therefore on the normal or typical condition.
Perception is basically an awareness which might be good or bad. If the perception built is a good one, it will surely help a person. However, if he or she develops a negative perception about a particular thing, it might lea him to the fear of failure. The individual cannot abandon perception as his basis for action. It provides him the immediate as well as the ultimate foundation of experience. Unlike the scientist’s reality, however, the individual’s reality is not fabric composed from a systematic and orderly accumulation of verified inferences. It is only in cases of interaction with stable stimulus objects arranged in relatively fixed stimulus patterns (like tables and chairs), where sequential feed-back corrections of error can be made easily and without effort or notice, that the individual’s knowledge approaches the level of correspondence with external events requisite to smooth, undisturbed adjustment.
Necessary as these kinds of adjustment are, it is becoming apparent that they do not represent the only important adjustments of the individual. The achievement of stable and accurate perceptual contact with the social events involved in interpersonal activity is also of importance for effective adjustment. In action with dynamic stimulus forms, such as a conversation with other persons, the procurement of correct knowledge is sometimes rather difficult, often impossible. Correction for error cannot easily be made in terms of sequential feed-back modifications. Rather, it must be made in terms of fairly gross trial-an-check procedures. If the norm against which a check is judged is intangible or coarse, the correction will–at best be rough and will only crudely approximate to the stimulus situation to which it relate (Bruner, & Minturn, 1995). This is so not only because of the complexity and variability intrinsic to such stimulus forms but also because the behaviors of other persons that can be seen and heard are only signals and sometimes very elusive and subtle ones–for the motivations or intents which they express. As with stable stimulus objects, the individual can organize his social perceptions only in terms of sensory evidence. Yet his interest is directed to inferring the intents or implications which underlie such sensory information, because, as has already been suggested, the adequacy of an individual’s adjustment is dependent on the accuracy, conformity, or tolerability of his inferences about the meaning of the sensory information to which he is exposed, modified of course by the latitude in interpretive error permitted by his cultural group. Future research will undoubtedly be concerned not only with establishing empirically the determinants of valid interpretations and the degrees of latitude in error tolerable within any particular cultural group but also with identifying the manner in which an individual comes to “know” when he has transgressed these tolerance limits and with clarifying understanding of the determinants of inefficiency in detecting when such parameters have been grossly exceeded (Miura, Okamoto, Kim, Chang, 1994).
Viewed from this general standpoint, an individual’s perceptual activity must be fabricated from his current organization of personally meaningful and significant experiences. These integrations, which achieve conceptual representation in the form of the individual’s unique organization of internal sets, beliefs, attitudes, selector tendencies, or hypotheses, are derived from the a scientific techniques of knowing adapted from the past for use in achieving a stable, definite, and predictable present. While they may yield consequences appropriate to the situational demands which evoke them, there is no a priori reason to assume that they will, because with but few exceptions they are not molded on the basis of adequate inferences. On the other hand, many perceptual outcomes, because of the repetitive frequency with which they have occurred in the past, the feasibility of sequential feed-back corrections, or both, are appropriate and accurate. Except for these most carefully practiced reactions to stable stimulus situations, perceptual interactions commonly yield information which corresponds to the features of the external realities to which they apply in only a semi adequate way. Why do such discrepancies tend to develop? They tend to develop sometimes because the opportunity of checking against adequate norms is nil or because adequate norms do not exist (as far as the individual is concerned), and sometimes because the frequency of exposure is extremely limited or the range of exposure is so narrow as effectively to prevent the crystallization of functionally adequate checking techniques from developing. Nevertheless, these emergent from prior perceptual activities must enter as critical conditions determining the outcomes of present and future perceptual interactions. The important question now becomes: What are the determinants of perception? This question identifies a critical problem that must be answered in order to achieve new insights into the determinants of complex behavior (Milgram, 1974).
The person high in fear of failure will continue to avoid demanding tasks. This is true for mental processes such as perception and reasoning. Over time, one’s attributions for why one acts in particular ways may sharpen and reflect increased understanding. However, unrecognized rationalizations in these attributions may remain with one throughout the life span.
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