Causal attribution and social judgment
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Causal Attribution and Social Judgment. Back to construal. Misunderstandings across genders—the case of unwanted sexual advances. Back to construal. Misunderstandings across cultures—the Hainan island incident-- collision of Chinese and US jets in 2001. Apology diplomacy

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Causal Attribution and Social Judgment

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Causal Attribution and Social Judgment

Back to construal

  • Misunderstandings across genders—the case of unwanted sexual advances

Back to construal

  • Misunderstandings across cultures—the Hainan island incident-- collision of Chinese and US jets in 2001

  • Apology diplomacy

  • Different cultural perceptions


  • Causal Attribution—how we make sense of other peoples’ behaviour

  • Self-knowledge—how we make sense of who we are and our own behaviour

  • Social Judgment—strategies, errors and biases in social decision making

Optimistic attributional style predicts future physical health

Even controlling for earlier health

Why Attribution Matters

Attribution –

Explanatory style -

Why Attribution Matters

Optmistic attributional style

Pessimistic attributional style

Optimistic attributional style predicts

  • Academic achievement

  • Physical health

  • Longevity

  • Relationship satisfaction

  • Likelihood of being elected to office

Attributional Biases

  • Fundamental attribution error:overestimating internal factors and underestimating external factors when explaining other people’s behaviour

    • “Castro Study”

Jones and Harris (1967) ‘Castro study’

Attributional Biases

  • Fundamental attribution error:

    • Anxious public speaker

    • Friendly saleswoman

    • Talkative talk show host

    • Deranged suicide terrorist

Research shows Suicide Bombers are not…

  • Mentally ill

  • Suicidal

  • Poor

  • Suffering from personality disorders

  • But they are: unmarried young adult men

  • Better explanation: group dynamics (recruitment) and popular support for suicide attacks

Study 1: Palestinian Representative Sample, 1999 (N=1151)

Ginges, Hansen, Norenzayan, 2009

Support for “martyrdom attacks”

Regular attenders 1.8 times more likely to support

Wald = 6.42 , 95% CI for OR = 1.16--3.02, P=0.01

No independent effect of prayer frequency

Control variables: prayer frequency, gender, economic satisfaction, education, refugee status, support for Islamic state

Study 2: Palestinian University Student Sample 2006 (N=719)

Agreement that “Islam encourages or requires martyrdom attacks”

Regular attenders 3.1 times more likely to support

Wald = 8.473, 95% CI for OR= 1.45--6.47, P=0.004

No independent effect of prayer frequency

Controls: prayer frequency, gender, economic satisfaction, education, refugee status and identification with Islamist Palestinian organizations

The tombstone of Baruch Goldstein which describes him as “murdered as a martyr of God”. On the 25th of February, 1994 Goldstein died while killing 29 Muslims at prayer, and injuring 60 others, in the “Cave of the Patriarchs”, a site holy to both Muslims and Jews located in Hebron, the West Bank



10-Nation BBC Survey of Religious Beliefs

  • Mexico (Catholic)

  • Great Britain (Protestant)

  • Russia (Orthodox)

  • India (Hindu)

  • Indonesia (Muslim)

  • Israel (Jewish)


52.7% female

age 18 to over 55

Variation in SES & income

Major religious groups

Joint agreement with:

1) “ I am willing to die for my God (beliefs)”

2) “I blame other religions for the problems of the world”

Controls: age, sex,

SES, education,

human dev index

Odds of supporting combative martyrdom

Attributional Biases

  • Fundamental attribution error:explanations

    • Perceptual:

    • Cognitive:

    • Motivational:

    • Cultural:

Cultural differences in causal attributions

Sports articles: US newspapers, more dispositional attributions

Hong Kong newspapers, more situational attributions

Cultural differences disappeared for editorials

Lee, Hallahan, & Herzog, 1996

The dilemma of the innocent victim

  • JWB allows individuals to maintain a sense of purpose and control—bad things couldn’t happen to me

  • Injustice in the world is a perceived threat

  • Outcomes reflect personal traits – more FAE

  • One pernicious consequence: blaming victims

Just World Beliefs(Lerner & Miller, 1978)

Just-world beliefs-

  • “By and large, people deserve what they get in life”

  • “Basically, the world is a just place”

  • “People who do their job will rise to the top”

  • “People who meet with misfortune have often brought it on themselves”

Just World Beliefs

Blaming the victim—experiments by Lerner & colleagues

  • Participants watch another person suffer (victim)

  • Restore Justice Condition: Participant (or someone else) can help the victim

  • JWB Condition: participant (or someone else) cannot help the victim

  • Outcome:

  • Results:

Just World Beliefs

Victim derogation is less likely

Who believes in a just world?

Just World Beliefs: Summary & Clarifications

  • When one believes in just world

  • AND the victim cannot be helped = MORE victim blaming

  • Not about self helping victim (empathy)

  • Not about perceived competence of the victim (VB even when victim is “randomly assigned” to be a victim)

Attributional Biases

  • Actor-observer effect:

  • Example: perceptions in conflict

    • Explanations:

    • 1)

    • 2)

Attributional Biases

  • Self-serving bias:


  • How and how much do we know ourselves?

  • Barriers to self-knowledge

  • Conscious vs. unconscious self-knowledge

  • Strategies for self-knowledge

Escape from the Self

  • Our defenses stop us from knowing ourselves, esp. undesirable aspects

  • We escape self-awareness through

    • Defensive strategies (suppression, denial)

    • Addictions: alcohol and drug abuse, sex, eating, TV, suicide, etc.

    • Work, hobbies, other people


  • We may have limited ability to know ourselves

  • Ways into self-knowledge

    • Introspection

    • Observing our own behaviour

    • Learning about how others see us


  • Look inward to observe

    • 1) Feelings, thoughts, desires

    • 2) Reasons behind our actions

  • More successful with 1) then 2)

  • The causes behind our tendencies are not readily visible—psychological research better way to know this

Introspection--do we know the causes of our behavior?

  • Confabulation: studies with split-brain patients (Gazzaniga & Ledoux)

  • Pantyhose study (Nisbett & Wilson)

Language centres in Left Hemisphere

Introspection--do we know the causes of our behavior?

  • Confabulation: studies with split-brain patients (Gazzaniga & Ledoux)

  • Pantyhose study (Nisbett & Wilson)

  • Cognitive dissonance studies, studies of discrimination—peoples explanations of their own behaviour have little to do with observed causes

Observing our own behaviour

  • Self perception theory:

How Others See Us

  • Our defenses prevents us from wanting to know ourselves

  • But others who know us well can see through these defenses

  • They can also be good observers of our behaviour

  • Ex: my colleague’s hostility in the late afternoon

Strategies that facilitate self-knowledge

  • Self-acceptance (less defensiveness)

  • Connecting with our feelings and observing our thoughts without identifying with them

  • Find out how knowledgeable others see us

  • Visualizing our reactions to future situations

  • Psychological research (esp. for reasons behind our actions)

“Thin slicing”: How first impressions matter

  • The statue that didn’t look right (see Gladwell, Blink)

  • First impression in dates, job interviews, consumer choices, …

“Thin slicing”: How first impressions matter

  • Judging personality traits (Willis & Todorov, 2006)

“Thin slicing”: How first impressions matter

  • Teacher evaluations (Ambady & Rosenthal, 1993)

    • 10, 5, 2 sec. long videotape of prof’s teaching

    • …predicted student evaluations at the end of term

“Thin slicing”: How first impressions matter

  • Do people agree on first impressions?

    • Yes

  • The 1 million $ chicken-egg question:

    • 1) Is the (often biased) first impression coloring longer term judgment? Or

    • 2) accurately perceiving what’s there takes only seconds?


Prop. of correctly predicted soccer games as a function of expertise and thought, Exp 1 (Dijksterhuis et al 2009)

Immed: 20sConsc: 2mUnconsc: 2m distr.

Heuristics in Social Judgment

  • Heuristic:

Heuristics in Social Judgment

  • Representativeness heuristic-

Heuristics in Social Cognition

  • Availability Heuristic:

The statistics

  • By number of deaths:

    • Deaths due to car transportation: 40,000/year

    • Deaths due to airline transportation: 200/year

  • By number of passengers

    • Car: 1/6800 deaths per year

    • Airline: 1/1.6 million per year

  • Controlling for distance covered

    • 10-40 times more likely to die driving than flying

The statistics

  • But media coverage is incredibly skewed:

    • 0.02 cancer stories/1000 cancer deaths

    • 1.7 murder stories/1000 homicides

    • 2.3 AIDS stories/1000 AIDS deaths

    • 138 plane crash stories/1000 airplane deaths

Social Cognition: Conclusions

  • Naïve realism: belief that one’s own perspective reflects objective reality, whereas others are biased

  • People are not objective observers of the social world; they construe their world in particular ways–heuristics and self-protective defenses to make sense of the social world

  • These ways of construal have consequences (health, decisions, conflict,…)

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