attribution theory

Topics: Attribution theory, Social psychology, Psychology Pages: 21 (4901 words) Published: June 13, 2014

Attribution (psychology)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In social psychology, attribution is the process by which individuals explain the causes of behavior and events. Attribution theory is the study of various models that attempt to explain those processes.[1] Psychological research into attribution began with the work of Fritz Heider in the early part of the 20th century, subsequently developed by others such as Harold Kelley and Bernard Weiner.


1 Background
2 Types
2.1 Explanatory attribution
2.2 Interpersonal attribution
3 Theories
3.1 Common sense psychology
3.2 Correspondent inference theory
3.3 Covariation model
3.4 Three-dimensional model
4 Bias and errors
4.1 Fundamental attribution error
4.2 Culture bias
4.3 Actor/observer difference
4.4 Dispositional attributions
4.5 Self-serving bias
4.6 Defensive attribution hypothesis
5 Application
5.1 Learned helplessness
6 Perceptual salience
7 Criticism
8 See also
9 References
10 Further reading


Psychological research into attribution began with the work of Fritz Heider, often described as the "father of attribution theory",[2] during the early years of the 20th century. Fritz Heider was born in Vienna, Austria in 1896. As a teenager, he had a deep love of the arts and would often spend time painting. However, his father, an architect, encouraged him to choose a more practical career. Fritz then tried his hand at architecture and law, but nothing truly provoked his interest until he enrolled in the University of Graz in 1916, where he became drawn to philosophy and psychology. By 1919, he began writing his thesis on “the subjectivity of sense qualities” [3] and was eventually awarded a doctorate in 1920 for his findings. In his 1920's dissertation Heider addressed a fundamental problem of phenomenology: why do perceivers attribute the properties of an object they sense, such as its color, texture and so on, to the object itself when those properties exist only in their minds? Heider's answer was to consider the object being perceived and the physical media by which it is sensed – the ticking of a watch causing vibrations in the air for instance – to be quite distinct, and that what the perceiver's senses do is to reconstruct an object from its effect on the media, a process he called attribution. "Perceivers faced with sensory data thus see the perceptual object as 'out there', because they attribute the sensory data to their underlying causes in the world."[4] In 1927, Heider accepted a position at University of Hamburg and then took of leave of absence at Smith College. Heider ended up moving to the United States permanently. In 1947, he accepted a position at University of Kansas and retired in 1966 as a Distinguished Professor of Psychology.

Heider subsequently extended his ideas to the question of how people perceive each other, and in particular how they account for each other's behavior, person perception. Motives played an important role in Heider's model: "motives, intentions, sentiments ... the core processes which manifest themselves in overt behavior". Heider distinguished between personal causality – such as offering someone a drink – and impersonal causality such as sneezing, or leaves falling. Later attribution theorists have tended to see Heider's fundamental distinction as being between "person (or internal) causes and situation (or external) causes of behavior.[5] Types

Explanatory attribution

People make explanatory attributions to understand the world around them and to seek reasons for a particular event. With explanatory attributions, people can make judgments as to what was the cause of a certain event, even if it turns out the proposed cause is unrelated to the event. For example, if Jacob’s car tire is punctured he may attribute that...

References: Fiske, S.T., & Taylor, S.E. (1991). Social cognition (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill
Heider, F
Jones, E. E. and Davis, K. E. (1965) From acts to dispositions: the attribution proces in social psychology, in L. Berkowitz (ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Volume 2, pp. 219-266), New York: Academic Press
Kelley, H
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