Attribution theory is a psychological concept that seeks to understand how individuals interpret the causes of events or behaviors. It aims to explain why people make certain attributions and how these attributions influence their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. There are several theories of attribution in social psychology that provide different perspectives on this phenomenon.
The Covariation Model
The covariation model, developed by Harold Kelley in 1967, suggests that people make attributions based on three types of information: consensus, distinctiveness, and consistency.
- Consensus: Consensus refers to the extent to which other people behave similarly in a given situation. If everyone behaves the same way, we attribute the behavior to external factors. For example, if everyone in a meeting is yawning, we may conclude that the meeting is boring.
- Distinctiveness: Distinctiveness refers to the extent to which an individual behaves similarly across different situations. If someone behaves differently in different situations, we attribute their behavior to internal factors.
For example, if a normally quiet person becomes talkative only during presentations, we may attribute it to their personality traits.
- Consistency: Consistency refers to the extent to which an individual’s behavior is consistent over time. If someone consistently behaves the same way in a particular situation, we attribute their behavior to internal factors. For example, if someone is always late for work, we may conclude that they are lazy or irresponsible.
The covariation model suggests that high consensus and distinctiveness along with low consistency lead us to attribute behavior to external factors (situational), while low consensus and distinctiveness along with high consistency lead us to attribute behavior to internal factors (dispositional).
The Correspondent Inference Theory
The correspondent inference theory, proposed by Edward Jones and Keith Davis in 1965, focuses on how people make inferences about others’ behavior based on their intentions and actions.
According to this theory, we are more likely to make dispositional attributions when someone’s behavior is freely chosen, socially undesirable, intended, and unexpected. On the other hand, we are more likely to make situational attributions when someone’s behavior is externally coerced or socially desirable.
The Attributional Biases
In addition to the theories mentioned above, social psychology also recognizes several attributional biases that influence our attributions.
The Fundamental Attribution Error
The fundamental attribution error refers to our tendency to attribute others’ behaviors to internal factors rather than considering situational factors. For example, if someone fails a test, we may assume they didn’t study enough without considering external factors like a difficult exam or personal issues.
The self-serving bias occurs when individuals attribute their successes to internal factors but blame external factors for their failures. For example, if someone gets a promotion, they may attribute it to their hard work and skills. However, if they fail an exam, they may blame the teacher or unfair questions.
The actor-observer bias refers to the difference in attributions made by actors (individuals involved in the situation) and observers (external individuals). Actors tend to attribute their own behavior to situational factors while attributing others’ behavior to dispositional factors. Observers tend to do the opposite by attributing actors’ behavior more heavily on dispositional factors.
- In conclusion, attribution theories provide insights into how individuals interpret and make sense of the behaviors of themselves and others. By understanding these theories and biases, we can gain a better understanding of human behavior and improve our interpersonal relationships.
So next time you find yourself making attributions about someone’s behavior, take a moment to consider the various factors that may be influencing their actions.