Evaluate the Contribution of Attribution Theories and Related Research in Helping Us to Understand the Way in Which People Perceive and Explain Their Social Environment:

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Social cognition explains the way people process knowledge relating to the social world. One way of judging the social world, is by attributing certain causes to particular behaviours. This is done through the use of attribution theories that use past stored information to come to the correct conclusions. Attribution theories help us understand what information we use and why we chose it, to assign a particular cause to an event. In 1958, Heider, (as cited in Buchanan, Anand, Joffe & Thomas, 2007) was the first to develop the idea that resulted in the creation of attribution theories. He said that people are like scientists who seek causes when evaluating people’s actions and categorise them as either internal/dispositional causes or external/situational causes. This essay will begin by describing the different types of attribution theories as well as some of their related research. It will then proceed to evaluate how useful attribution theories are in allowing us to understand how people make sense of social events. This will be done by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of all the theories mentioned. The first attribution theory was presented by Jones and Davis (1965). They decided that we favour attributing internal causes when judging others as they teach us more about the person than external causes. The next theory, developed by Harold Kelley (1967) is known as the covariation model. This theory compares people to intuitive scientists who use previous information to consider how particular behaviours and situations covary. We assess this covariation by using three variables: consistency, consensus and distinctiveness (CCD) (as cited in Buchanan et al., 2007). The usual way of conducting research on this theory, is with the use of vignettes containing this CCD information, such as McArthur’s study. She presented participants with different types of vignettes accompanied with questions intended to draw out casual attributions. The results of this research support Kelley’s theory that people use CCD information when judging behavioural events (as cited in Buchanan, 2007). Other types of attribution theories can be categorised as bias theories that don’t assume that people always make rational choices. Firstly, the fundamental attribution error (FAE) describes that people are inclined to favour internal attributions when judging others. This is in line with Jones and Davis’s theory mentioned above. Furthermore, the actor/observer effect (AOE) also queries how reliable attribution theories are. AOE explains that people prefer using internal explanations when judging other people’s behaviour whilst blaming external attributions when explaining themselves. One reason for this is based on the idea of perceptual salience. People tend to be more focused on the aspect that attracts the most attention in their perceptual field. This explains why when we look at other people, the person is the center of attention and we therefore use internal explanations. However when we are the actor, our center of attention is outside of us, hence we favour external justifications. This idea has supported research that was conducted by Storms in 1973 (as cited in Buchanan et al., 2007). He carried out an experiment that required both actors and observers to rate the actor’s behaviour using internal or external causes. The results authenticate FAE and AEO. This research is also supportive to the idea of perceptual salience. This is because when the actor judged himself from memory, he used external causes. This was unlike when he judged himself as an observer, by watching himself on video, in which he used internal causes. Another bias theory that affects our judgement of people is the self-serving bias. This describes the trend of people making themselves look good...
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