Attribution Theory - Explained
What is Attribution Theory?
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Table of ContentsWhat is Attribution Theory?How does Attribution Theory Work? Academic Research on Attribution Theory
What is Attribution Theory?
Attribution theory, proposed by Fritz Heider (1958), is a social psychology theory that deals with how individuals relate and make sense of the social world. More specifically, it is concerned with how people translate events around them and how their translations affect their thinking and behavior.
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How does Attribution Theory Work?
The Attribution Theory is concerned with how individuals perceive the information they receive, interpret events, and how these form causal judgements.
No individual would take an action or decision without attributing it to a cause or factor.
According to Heider, this is aimed at assessing the explanation that people give to certain behaviors, it considers how individuals interpret their behaviors.
The theory of attribution posits that attribution, whether done internally or externally, has great influence on how people feel and relate to others.
Heider says that all behavior is considered to be determined by either internal or by external factors:
- External Attribution (Situational Attribution): Causality is assigned to an outside factor, agent or force. Outside factors fall outside your control. You perceive you have no choice. So your behavior is influenced, limited or even completely determined by influences outside your control. Therefore you feel not responsible. A generic example is the weather.
- Internal Attribution (Dispositional Attribution): Causality is assigned to an inside factor, agent or force. Inside factors fall inside your own control. You can choose to behave in a particular way or not. So your behavior is not influenced, limited or even completely determined by influences outside your control. Therefore you feel responsible. A typical example is your own intelligence.
This is also dependent on individual personality and cognitive behaviors.
As a complex psychological process, there have been diverse attempts to explain this concept using many theories.
From an attribution theory perspective, individuals exhibit creativity when dealing with others people and external factors.
What are the Steps in the Attribution Theory Process?
There is a three-stage process underlying attribution:
- Perception. Observe. The person must perceive or observe the behavior.
- Judgment. Determine deliberateness. The person must believe that the behavior was intentionally performed.
- Attribute. The person must determine if he believes the other person was forced to perform the behavior (in which case the cause is attributed to the situation) or not (in which case the cause is attributed to the other person).
What are Attribution Factors?
Attribution factors by Kelley (1967): Kelley advanced Heider's theory by adding hypotheses about factors that affect the formation of attributions:
- Consistency information. The degree to which the actor performs that same behavior toward an object on different occasions.
- Distinctiveness information. The degree to which the actor performs different behaviors with different objects.
- Consensus information. The degree to which other actors perform the same behavior with the same object.
What is Fundamental Attribution Error?
Fundamental attribution error is he tendency for people to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior.