The attribution theory attempts to explain how individuals interpret events and messages. The theory provides evidence that we attempt to predict others' behavior by attributing their actions to known events.
How do we attach meaning to other's behavior or our own? This is called attribution theory. For example, is someone angry because they are bad-tempered or because something bad happened?
"Attribution theory deals with how the social perceiver uses information to arrive at causal explanations for events. It examines what information is gathered and how it is combined to form a causal judgment" (Fiske, & Taylor, 1991)
Attribution theory is concerned with how and why ordinary people explain events as they do.
Heider (1958) believed that people are naive psychologists trying to make sense of the social world. People tend to see cause and effect relationships, even where there is none!
Heider didn't so much develop a theory himself as emphasize certain themes that others took up. There were two main ideas that he put forward that became influential.
The process of assigning the cause of behavior to some internal characteristic, rather than to outside forces. When we explain the behavior of others we look for enduring internal attributions, such as personality traits.
For example, we attribute the behavior of a person to their personality, motives, or beliefs.
The process of assigning the cause of behavior to some situation or event outside a person's control rather than to some internal characteristic.
When we try to explain our own behavior we tend to make external attributions, such as situational or environmental features.
Jones and Davis (1965) thought that people pay particular attention to intentional behavior (as opposed to accidental or unthinking behavior).
Jones and Davis' theory helps us understand the process of making an internal attribution. They say that we tend to do this when we see a correspondence between motive and behavior. For example, when we see a correspondence between someone behaving in a friendly way and being a friendly person.
Dispositional (i.e., internal) attributions provide us with information from which we can make predictions about a person's future behavior. The correspondent inference theory describes the conditions under which we make dispositional attributes to the behavior we perceive as intentional.
Davis used the term correspondent inference to refer to an occasion when an observer infers that a person's behavior matches or corresponds with their personality. It is an alternative term to dispositional attribution.
So what leads us to make a correspondent inference? Jones and Davis say we draw on five sources of information:
Kelley's (1967) covariation model is the best-known attribution theory. He developed a logical model for judging whether a particular action should be attributed to some characteristic (internal) of the person or the environment (external).
The term covariation simply means that a person has information from multiple observations, at different times and situations, and can perceive the covariation of an observed effect and its causes.
He argues that in trying to discover the causes of behavior people act like scientists. More specifically they take into account three kinds of evidence.
Let's look at an example to help understand his particular attribution theory. Our subject is called Tom. His behavior is laughter. Tom is laughing at a comedian.
Now, if everybody laughs at this comedian, if they don't laugh at the comedian who follows and if this comedian always raises a laugh, then we would make an external attribution, i.e., we assume that Tom is laughing because the comedian is very funny.
On the other hand, if Tom is the only person who laughs at this comedian, if Tom laughs at all comedians, and if Tom always laughs at the comedian then we would make an internal attribution, i.e., we assume that Tom is laughing because he is the kind of person who laughs a lot.
So what we've got here is people attributing causality on the basis of correlation. That is to say, we see that two things go together and we, therefore, assume that one causes the other.
One problem, however, is that we may not have enough information to make that kind of judgment. For example, if we don't know Tom that well, we wouldn't necessarily have the information to know if his behavior is consistent over time. So what do we do then?
According to Kelley we fall back on past experience and look for either
Source: Saul McLeod, https://www.simplypsychology.org/attribution-theory.html
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