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Attribution 1: Theories. Dr Elizabeth Sheppard. C81IND Individual in Society. Attribution Theory. Attribution theory - The conceptual framework within social psychology dealing with lay, or common sense explanations of behaviour.

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Attribution 1: Theories

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Attribution 1 theories l.jpg

Attribution 1: Theories

Dr Elizabeth Sheppard

C81IND

Individual in Society


Attribution theory l.jpg

Attribution Theory

  • Attribution theory - The conceptual framework within social psychology dealing with lay, or common sense explanations of behaviour.

  • Through life we gradually construct explanations/theories of why people behave in certain ways

  • 1.) Naïve psychologist (Heider, 1958)

  • 2.) Correspondent inference (Jones & Davis, 1965)

  • 3.) Kelley’s model


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Primary questions

1.)What are the main characteristics of attributions?

2.) How are attributions are made?


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Naïve Psychologist(Fritz Heider,1958)

  • Sets out the foundations of attribution theory “common sense psychology”

  • Individual as a ‘Naïve Scientist’

  • Two important contributions

    1.) Proposed the idea of internal

    & external causes of behaviour 2.) Perceivers ignore part or all situational

    factors when explaining behaviour.

  • (Later theorists who expanded on and developed Heider’s ideas: Kelley,1967; Jones & Davis,1965; Weiner, 1979. )


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Correspondent inference (Jones & Davis, 1965)

  • When judging another’s behaviour we use information to draw a correspondent inference where the behaviour is attributed to a disposition/personality characteristic

  • Use various characteristics to do this including:

    • Social desirability

    • Non-common effects

  • Important historically, but its impact has been limited


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Kelley’s Model (1967,1973)

  • What information is used to arrive at a causal attribution?

  • Developed a logical model for judging whether a particular action should be attributed to some characteristic (internal) of the person or the environment (external)


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What information is used to arrive at a causal attribution?

1.) Covariation - Perceiver has info from multiple observations, at different times and situations, and can perceive the covariation of an observed effect and its causes

2.) Configuration - Perceiver is faced with a single observation and must take account of the configuration (i.e.the current info available)


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Covariation: Multiple observations

  • Covariation Principle – An effect is attributed to a condition that is present when the effect is present, and absent when the effect is absent. (e.g. donuts disappear/ Homer)

  • Based on statistical technique ANOVA.

  • Examines changes in a dependent variable

  • (the effect) by varying independent variables

  • (the conditions).


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Analysis of Variance Model of Covariation

Does behaviour generalise?

Possible single causes

Types of info (IV’s)

8 Information combinations 2 x 2 x 2


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Analysis of Variance Model of Covariation (McArthur e.g., 1972)

Does behaviour generalise?

Possible single causes

Types of info (IV’s)

8 Information combinations 2 x 2 x 2


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Analysis of Variance Model of Covariation (McArthur e.g., 1972)

Does behaviour generalise?

Possible single causes

Types of info (IV’s)

8 Information combinations 2 x 2 x 2


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Why did the students fall asleep during the lecture?

  • e.g. The majority of the students fell asleep in Dr. Sheppard’s lecture on theories of attribution. They also fell asleep during her other lectures, but not lectures given by other teaching staff.

  • High consensus

  • High consistency

  • High distinctiveness

Boring lecturer?


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Why did the students fall asleep during the lecture?

  • e.g. The majority of the students fell asleep in Dr. Sheppard’s lecture on theories of attribution. They never fell asleep during her other lectures, or in lectures given by other teaching staff.

  • High consensus

  • Low consistency

  • High distinctiveness

Day after formal ball?

Hot lecture theatre?


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But…

  • Works well for person and entity

  • No single clear pattern which can lead to circumstance attributions. These seem to be maximised when consistency is low (Forsterling, 1989; Hewstone & Jaspars, 1987)

  • This can be seen as a limitation to the model


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Main criticisms of covariation principle

1.) Doesn’t work well for circumstance attributions

2.) Covariation does not mean causality

3.)Participants are given “pre-packaged” info which they might not seek or use in everyday situations (model idealised/normative)

4.) Evidence suggests people are poor at assessing covariation between events (Alloy & Tabachnik, 1984)

5.)It may appear that the covariation principle was used, but the processing used may be completely different (e.g. Nisbett & Ross, 1980)

6.) Requires multiple observations over time- which is not always possible to do


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Configuration: Single observations

  • Causal Schemata – Preconceptions or theories built up from experience about how certain kinds of causes interact to produce a specific effect (abstract-content free i.e. general & apply across content areas)

  • Allows one to interpret information quickly by comparing and integrating it with a schema

  • E.g. multiple sufficient cause schema – any of several causes can produce the same effect


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Configuration: Single observations

  • Each Schema is associated with a number of principles set out by Kelley

  • Discounting principle – if different causes can produce the same effect, the role of a given cause in producing the effect is discounted if other plausible causes are present

e.g. Why is your flatmate doing the washing up?


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Configuration: Single observations

  • Augmentation principle – The role of a given cause is increased (augmented) if an effect occurs in the presence of an inhibitory cause.

e.g. Why did the man in the chicken costume win the race?


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Main criticisms of causal schemata (Fiedler, 1982)

  • 1.)The existence and functioning of causal schemata has not been successfully demonstrated – research supporting it is artificial – can’t prove

  • 2.)The idea of schemata is content free and thus too abstract


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Can internal and external attributions be distinguished?

  • Statements implying internal attributions can be rephrased to imply external & vice versa

  • Students asked to write down why they had chosen their degree subject at uni (Nisbett et al, 1973)

  • Statements such as “I want to make a lot of money” were coded as internal while statements such as “Chemistry is a high paying field” were external

  • Criticised internal/external categories for being very broad and too heterogeneous (Lalljee,1981)

  • Participants have difficulty understanding the distinction (Taylor & Koivumaki, 1976)


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Internal

Stable Unstable

External

Stable Unstable

Consistent help/hindrance from others

Unusual help/hindrance from others

Controllable

Typical effort

Unusual effort

Uncontrollable

Ability

Mood

Task difficulty

Luck

Can internal and external attributions be distinguished?

  • Other categorisations of attributions e.g. multidimensional approach (Weiner, 1986)

    • Locus – internal or external?

    • Stability – is the cause a stable or unstable one (over time)

    • Controllability – to what extent is future task performance under the actor’s control?


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Applications of attribution theory

  • Individual differences & attributional style

    • Rotter (1966) argues people differ in terms of the amount of control they believe they have over reinforcements & punishments received – measures of locus of control related to range of behaviour e.g. political beliefs, achievement

      • Internals – high personal control over destiny

      • Externals – fatalistic, things occur by chance

    • Attributional style questionnaire (Peterson et al., 1982) – sorts explanations on 3 dimensions: internal/external, stable/unstable, global/specific

    • Those who view aversive events as caused by internal, stable, global factors = depressive attributional style


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Applications of attribution theory

  • Interpersonal relationships

  • Most commonly used in relation to marital success e.g. Fincham & O’Leary, 1983

    • happily married individuals tend to credit partners for positive behaviour by citing internal, stable, global & controllable factors to explain them

    • Negative behaviour is explained away by ascribing to external, unstable, specific & uncontrollable causes

    • Distressed couples do the opposite

  • Women continuous engage in attributional thought about relationships – men only do so when dysfunctional!!


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Summary

  • Theories of attribution claim we aim to attribute behaviour to either internal (person) or external (situation) causes

  • Kelley proposed models of covariation (data driven) & configuration (theory driven)

  • In reality these may interact i.e. our expectations (schemata) may influence what data are processed i.e. what observations made


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References

  • Hewstone & Stroebe (2001) Introduction to Social Psychology, Chapter 7.

  • Fraser & Burchell (2001) Introducing Social Psychology, Chapter 11.


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