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Attribution theory Attribution refers to the way in which people interpret and explain events in th e social world, e.g.

how people come to understand the reasons why other people behave as they do. Attributions are the beliefs about why people behave as they do; attributions ca n be internal (dispositional) or external (situational). 1. Dispositional attributions: Sometimes we believe that the way a person h as behaved is caused by factors which are specific to them as a person, their pe rsonality or other internal and generally unchanging characteristics. 2. Situational attributions: Sometimes we assume that someones behaviour is dependent upon their current circumstances or situation; the cause of their beha viour is seen to be external to the individual, e.g. circumstances or luck.

Fritz Heider (1958) believed that people are logical and systematic in their exp lanations of behaviour, like naive scientists formulating hypotheses and drawing c onclusions. In reality, research suggests that people make attributions quickly and often ba sed on very little information. They also show tendencies towards certain types of explanations and these have become known as attributional errors and/or biase s. Using an intuitive and relatively automatic process, people do not think about m aking attributions; they just do it. People are experts at understanding other p eople at least we all think we are but we do not actually understand how we do i t until we reflect on it. And attribution theory is one way of systematically re flecting on it. (Fiske, 2004) Heider and Simmel (1944) demonstrated the strength of the human tendency to expl ain behaviour in terms of intentions. Watch the video clip in class or on the VL E.

Heider believed that from an array of observable behaviour and infer unobservabl e causes. He believed that members of a certain culture share a code for making se nse of each others behaviour. Bennett (1993) explains that without understanding this code social life would hardly be possible. Jones and Davis Correspondent Inference Theory (CIT) Jones and Davis were interested in intentions. Jones and Davis argue that we sho uld make correspondent inferences whereby behaviour and intention are linked to some underlying dispositional trait. Both the behaviour and the intention can be

described in the same way, i.e. aggressive,

Conditions that must be in place for correspondent inferences to be made: Actor must be seen to be capable of producing the observed effects Actor must know the effects the behaviour would produce (intention) Analysis of uncommon effects When a person chooses a particular option from several, the defining features of the choice that they have made are often used to infer dispositional traits of that person. Additionally if the chosen option may have some costs involved for the individual then we are likely to infer that the benefits that this option pr esents must be things that are really important to the individual. For example, say a person is buying a new car and they have seen three or four options one of which was more expensive but had a bigger boot but was otherwise very similar, we might infer that the size of the boot is something really important to that p erson.

Conditions affecting the application of the uncommon effects rule a. The less the options differ, the more likely a dispositional attributio n is to be made b. The more negative qualities the chosen option has, the more likely a dis positional attribution is to be made and the more sure we can be about some-ones intentions

Other factors affecting the probability of making a dispositional or situational attributions choice if the actors behaviour is seen as being affected by situational factors t his will decrease likelihood of dispositional attribution social desirability when behaviour goes against over-riding social norms, we are more likely to make dispositional attributions; conventional behaviours are oft en seen as simply being the product of the need to fit in; deviant behaviours ar e more likely to be punished and therefore are more costly and if they are there fore enacted regardless, we assume this must be due to some quality of the perso n out-of-role behaviour: when people behave according to their role if tells us li ttle about their disposition as they are just doing their job how well we know a person is an important variable in making attributions; if we know the person well then we will know how typical the behaviour is of the pers on; if the behaviour is seen as atypical (unusual) it could seen as more likely down to situational factors Jones et al (1961) if you want to be an astronaut, be a loner Aim: ........................................................................... .................. ............................................................. ......................................... ................................................................................

....................... Procedure: Pps hear someone being interviewed for a job as either an astronaut or submarine r; the applicants have been asked to tell the truth unless a lie would be more p ersuasive! Before the interview they hear that astronauts should be inner-directed and able t o exist without social interaction (introverted) but submariners should be otherdirected and outgoing (extroverted) The Pps believed that the job applicants were also aware of the desirable qualit ies. Pps heard interviewees either acting in accordance with the desired personality traits for the job or not in the desired way for the particularly job they were applying for. The Pps were then asked to rate the extent to which they believed the person was really a loner or an extrovert and how confident they felt about this judgement Results: When interviewees presented themselves in ways which conflicted with the desirab le characteristics of the job for which they were applying, participants were mo re convinced that the interviewees actually possessed these character traits as they went against the norms expected in order to get the job. Conclusion: When there are multiple possible causes for a behaviour, people are less confident in their attributions (e.g. if a submariner applicant says he is outgoing this could be for two reasons, one that it is true and two that it will help him get the job) however if there is just a single possible cause, then pe ople are more confident in their attributions, (e.g. if an astronaut says he is outgoing there is only one reason to say this, it is true as it wont help him to get the job). This supports Jones and Davis Correspondent inference theory of a ttribution. Kelleys covariation and configuration models Covariation model (1967) Think: Clare is laughing her head off on Friday night at the local comedy club. What are the possible reasons? Kelly argues that we use a basic scientific notion; that causes co-vary with eff ects; to determine whether A (the comedian) causes B (Clares laughter) we should consider how often B occurs in the presence of A and whether it ever occurs with out the presence of A. This makes sense but the principle can only be employed if a person has evidence from multiple observations. If two events repeatedly occur together we are more likely to assume that they a re causally related. Logically, if they rarely occur together we are less likely to think this, (however, there is an attributional bias known as the illusory c orrelation bias which contradicts this!) Kelly believes that there are three fac tors which affect the attribution process. 1. Consensus; the extent to which other people behave in the same way in a given situation 2. Distinctiveness: the extent to which the actor behaves in the same way i n other similar situations, particularly when there is no-one around! 3. Consistency: the extent to which the actor behaves in the same way every time the situation arises Think: What are the possibilities relating to these three factors which would le ad you to think that Clare is simply a fun-loving soul (dispositional attributio n for her behaviour) or that the comedian is actually funny, (situational factor s). High or Low High or Low Consensus Low: High: Distinctiveness Low: High: Consistency High: Low:

Situational or dispositional? Evaluating Covariation Comparing CIT and J and D Consensus similar to social desirability Distinctiveness similar to uncommon effects Consistency similar to enduring disposition Support from research evidence McArthur (1972) Experiment with independent measures: Pps given 16 behavioural descriptions; 4 w ere about emotional reactions, 4 were about accomplishments, 4 statements of opi nion and 4 about intentional actions. Pps were asked to rate the extent to which they believed the descriptions to be due to something about the person (disposi tion) or something about the environmental circumstances (situation). There were two groups; one group only received the behavioural descriptions while another group received the descriptions and information relating to consensus, consisten cy and distinctiveness. IV: DV: Findings: Distinctiveness was most important when making dispositional attributions. Consistency was most important when making situational attributions Consensus was not very important when making person attributions and this is not predicted by the model Evaluation: The study is deemed to be reliable as when replicated by Major (1980) consistenc y was given highest priority and consensus lowest. Likewise, Nisbett and Borgida (1975) also found that consensus information was g iven very weak priority when Pps made attributions about a student in a psycholo gy experiment. The Pps were told that the student had tolerated high electric sh ocks in an experiments and despite being told that 16/34 Pps also tolerated shoc ks of a high voltage, they were no more likely to give situational attributions than those given no consensus information at all; the vivid information presente d about one real concrete person was more influential than abstract base-rates r elating to a group of unknown others. Others argue that consensus information is sometimes influential but only when p eople are doing the opposite to what you might expect. (Wells and Harvey, 1977) Cross cultural studies suggests that consensus information may only be disregard ed by American or western Pps from individualist societies, for example, Cha and Nam (1985) found that Korean Pps made effective use of consensus information an d thus were more likely to make situational attributions. Some argue that people simply do not use the covariation rules in such a logical and systematic way (naive scientist) studies are artificial in real world this normative (ideal model) is less convincing. Configuration model Sometimes we wont have access to some or all of the three types of information pa rticularly if we dont know the person; single occurrences of behaviour are still interpreted however; Causal schemata: (1972) ready-made beliefs, preconceptions, about how certain kin ds of causes interact to produce a specific kind of effect; they present a form o f causal short hand for making fast but complex inferences. Based on our experie nce of cause and effect and what we have been taught by others; used when causal information is ambiguous and incomplete.