Attribution Theory

Attribution theory, Cognitive

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  • attribution is the process of explaining the behaviour of other people. when we observe behaviour, we unconsciously try to find explanations for it
  • e.g. a shop assistant is rude to us , we assume they are a rude person




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Heider & Simmel (1944)

  • shown a group of participants a short film with two triangles and circle
  • group 1 asked to describe what happened
  • group 2 asked to interpet the movement
  • those who were asked to interpret described the triangle as aggressive
  • this means that we automatically dispositional attributions even about objects
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Internal/External Attributions

  • Hieder(1958) suggested that humans are always trying to find explanation for peoples behaviour through either there personality or the situation
  • internal attribution - dispositional- personality
  • external attribution- situational- down to the situation
  • e.g. a man gives money to charity, if he does it because hes kind and caring, its dispositional, if someone asks but he just had loose change, its situational.
  • according to heider we make dispositional attributions about people
  • this is called the fundamental attribution error (FAE), its a fundamental error people make, e.g. if a person is rude in the shop they automatically presume the person is rude.
  • evidence for FAE is Ross (1977) 
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Covariation theory

  • kelly (1960) proposed there are three factors that determine attributions.
  • the three factors are: consistency, consensus, and distinctiveness.
  • if behaviour is high in consistency, but low in consensus and distinctiveness then its a dispositional attribution.
  • if behaviour is high consistency, consensus and distinctiveness then its situational.
  • e.g. lucy alwyas laughs at friends, lucy laughs at all american tv programs, only some people laugh at friends- this is internal.
  • McArthur (1972) supported the covariation model.
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Errors in the attribution process

  • Actor/observer bias- we prefer to explain our own behaviour in terms of the situation, but others we just presume they behave due to dispositional.
  • Nisbett (1973) found that students he studied made situational attributions about themselves and dispositional about their friends.
  • The self serving bias - we take credit for our successes and disassociate our failures.
  • so basically when we do something good we make internal attributions, but when we fail we make external attributions.
  • Jones (1968) arranged for participants to teach two students, when the students did well they attributed it to their teaching, but when the student failed it was because of the student.
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