Attributionattitude Boomerang Effect See Attribution Theory

ATTRIBUTION THEORY. The Austrian-American psychologist Fritz Heider (18961988) was preeminent in the formulation of balance theory in the study of attitudes (i.e., people are motivated to maintain balance, harmony, or "cognitive consonance" among their attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs; cf., state of imbalance, disharmony, or "cognitive dissonance") and of attribution theory in the study of social perception that originated in social psychology and is a general approach for describing the ways individuals use information to generate causal explanations for behavior and events; Heider's term causal schema denotes a conceptual organization of a sequence of events in which some are identified as "causes" and others as "effects." Heider argued the people continually make causal analyses about others' behavior where the behavior is attributed either to dispositions (internal factors or causes, such as one's personality) or to situations (external factors or causes, such as one's environment). For example, is the other person's overt hostility due to his aggressive personality (dispositional attribution) or due to abuse and stress in that person's environment (situational attribution)? Heider suggested that instead of developing theories of how people are supposed to act or think, psychologists should examine the personal theories (belief systems) that ordinary people themselves use as "intuitive psychologists" to assess the causes and effects of behavior (cf., positivity bias/effect - a pervasive tendency for people, especially those with high self-esteem, to rate positive traits as being more applicable to themselves than negative traits, and where, in balance theory, there is a general preference demonstrated by most people for positive relations). A prolific number of subtheories, hypotheses, effects, and principles relating to attribution theory have followed Heider's initial formulations (cf., attribution/attitude boomerang effect, which refers to a shift in attitude/attributions that not only goes against what was intended but actually is in the opposite direction). Although it is possible that an individual may choose to make a situational attribution of another's behavior, most people tend to be biased toward making dispositional attributions. Thus, there seems to be a tendency to view persons as origins of events, and this leads many individuals to regard the needs, wishes, dispositions, skills, and motives of others as responsible for both natural and social phenomena. This tendency of people to ignore the external circumstantial causes of behavior and to emphasize the internal personal-character causes is referred to as the fundamental attribution error, or the overattribution effect. According to the automaticity hypothesis, such attributions to internal characteristics are automatic, whereas attributions to external causes are, by comparison, more controlled. Another hypothesis concerning attribution theory, the cultural-norm hypothesis, states that the fundamental attribution error (underestimating situational influences) is at least partly learned from one's larger culture. For example, persons in a Western culture -which emphasizes the idea that people are in charge of their own destinies - will learn to attribute behavior more to internal character than to external environment. The actor-observer discrepancy is a concept of attribution theory that suggests that the fundamental attribution error is less likely to occur when people make attributions about their own behavior than when they make attributions about others' behaviors. Various hypotheses have been offered to explain the actor-observer discrepancy, the knowledge-across-situations hypothesis states that people become more sensitized to the variations in their own behavior because they have seen themselves in many more situations than they have seen others; and the visual-orientation hypothesis stems from the basic characteristic of visual perception that our eyes point outward and, when we watch someone else's behavior, our eyes are fixed on that person and, thereby, attribute internal causes to the person. On the other hand, when we ourselves engage in behaviors, we see the surrounding, external environment (not ourselves) and attribute external causes for our own behavior. The correspondent inference theory (cf., Jones & Davis, 1965) is a system atic analysis of the processes described by Heider and describes the situational factors that influence the appearance of external and internal attributions. This theory states, among other things, that individuals observe actions and effects produced by actions where such action-effect connections become the basis for inferences about others' behaviors and intentions. When "knowledge" and "ability" intentions are attributed, an internal disposition is assumed to be the cause of the other person's behavior. In another case, the just-world hypothesis (first described by the Canadian American-based psychologist Melvin J. Lerner) in attribution theory argues for the notion that people need to believe that the world is fair and that justice is served consistently, where bad people are punished and good people are rewarded. The illusion of control theory, described by the American psychologist Ellen J. Langer (1947- ), refers to the belief that one has control over events that are actually determined by chance, and is found most frequently in situations involving apparent skill, containing apparent familiarity, involving competition with seemingly incompetent opponents, and stressing the importance of success. A theory related to the idea that people attribute and infer internal dispositions concerning others' behavior is the self-perception theory. This attribution theory proposes that individuals use the same information to make inferences about their own disposi-tional makeup as they use to make inferences about others'. Thus, according to this approach, we observe our own actions and subsequently attribute those actions to external or internal causes, and in the absence of a reasonable external cause for our own behavior, we attribute it to an internal cause. In this way, for example, a person develops attitudes about issues and events by self-observation of the opinions she expresses. Another integrative theory of attribution processes has been formulated by the American psychologist Harold H. Kelley (1921- ) who emphasizes the idea that people often make causal attributions for events under conditions of uncertainty, and he developed a model of the logic that people might use to judge whether a specific behavior should be attributed to internal (personality-character) causes or to external (environ mental) causes. According to Kelley's model (also called Kelley 's cube), before making an attribution (either internal or external), one would ideally ask three questions about another's behavior: (1) Is it consistent? (2) Is it consensual/normative? (3) Is it distinctive? If the answer to (1) is no, the attribution will probably be external. If the answer to (1) is yes, either an external or internal attribution will be made, depending on the answers to (2) and (3). If the answer to both (1) and (2) is yes, the attribution will probably be external. If the answers to both (1), (2), and (3) are yes, no, ye, respectively, the attribution will probably be internal. If the answers to (1), (2), and (3) are yes, no, no, respectively, the attribution will probably be a combination of both external and internal factors. Also, according to Kelley, a covariation/correlation principle is employed when people infer the causes of events, including the behavior of other people, by observing whether two events vary together or simply occur together (such as lightning and thunder). In this way, an effect is attributed to that condition that is present when the effect is present and that condition that is absent when the effect is absent. Kelley also refers to the concepts of discounting principle (also called the discounting effect) and augmentation principle (also called the augmentation effect) to describe the plausibility of internal versus external causes in the assessment of another's behavior. Discounting is the tendency to reject dispositional (internal) factors as causes of a behavior when the behavior is apparently one that most people would perform under the existing circumstances. Augmenting is the tendency for one to increase acceptance of an internal dispositional cause when a potential external cause is also present. Occasionally, the attributional process may be biased in a way where one's own personal goals, attitudes, and motives disrupt a rational and systematic analysis of the causes of behavior. One example of this type of attributional bias is called the self-serving bias, which occurs when one tends to take credit for one's successes but deny responsibility for one's failures. Numerous studies have been conducted to extend and refine attribution theory, but they all attempt generally to examine the dynamics and conditions under which causal explanations about others' (and one's own) behaviors are made. In addition to social psychological issues, attribution theory has been used as an explanatory system or model for many other psychological issues and areas, including the study of marriage, spousal abuse, cultural influence, achievement motivation, emotions, and clinical depression. See also ACHIEVEMENT MOTIVATION, THEORY OF; ATTITUDE/ATTITUDE CHANGE, THEORIES OF; BOOMERANG EFFECT; CORRESPONDENCE BIAS HYPOTHESIS; FALSE-CONSENSUS EFFECT; FESTINGER'S COGNITIVE DISSONANCE THEORY; IMPRESSION FORMATION, THEORIES OF; KELLEY'S COVARIATION THEORY. REFERENCES

Cartwright, D. & Haray, F. (1956). Structural balance: A generalization of Heider's theory. Psychological Review, 63, 277-293.

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson.

Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relationships. New York: Wiley.

Jones, E. E., & Davis, K. (1965). From acts to dispositions: The attribution process in person perception. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology. New York: Academic Press. Kelley, H. (1971). Attribution in social interaction. Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.

Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology. New York: Academic Press. Kelley, H. (1973). The process of causal attribution. American Psychologist, 28, 107-128.

Nisbett, R., Caputo, C., Legant, P., & Marecek, J. (1973). Behavior as seen by the actor and as seen by the observer. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27, 154-164. Langer, E. (1975). The illusion of control.

Journal of Personality and Social Psycology, 32, 311-328.

Ross, L. D. (1977). The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology. New York: Academic Press. Arkin, R., Cooper, H., & Kolditz, T. (1980). A statistical review of the literature concerning the self-serving attribution bias in interpersonal influence situations. Journal of Personality, 48, 435-448. Heider, F. (1980). On balance and attribution.

In D. Gorlitz (Ed.), Perspectives on attribution research and theory. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger. Lerner, M. J. (1980). The belief in a just world: A fundamental delusion. New York: Plenum.

Jellison, J., & Green, J. (1981). A self-presentation approach to the fundamental attribution error: The norm of internality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 643-649. Weiner, B. (1986). An attributional theory of motivation and emotion. New York: Springer.

Explaining real life events: How culture and domain shape attributions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22, 732-741.

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