Chapter 2 - attribution theory
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What is the basis for attribution theory?
The idea of the naive scientist
Who developed the naive scientist?
What two needs are people motivated by?
- The need to form a coherent view of the world
- The need to gain control over the environment
How do we satisfy the needs for a coherent view of the world and control of the environment?
We act as naive scientists, rationally and logically testing our hypotheses about the behavior of others
What did Heider and Simmel (1994) study?
The basic need to attribute causality
How did Heider and Simmel illustrate the basic need of attributing causality?
- Asked participants to simply describe the movement of abstract geometric shapes
- Participants (all but one) described the movements as actions of animated beings - indicative of human intentions and motives
Why do people have a basic need to attribute causality?
- Ascribes meaning to our world
- Makes the world clear, definable and predictable, thereby reducing uncertainty
Locus of causality?
What are the two different ways behavior can be explained?
Internal or external causes
How can we subdivide internal and external causes of behavior?
- 1. Stable vs unstable causes (stability)
- 2. Controllable vs uncontrollable causes (controllability)
Who developed the correspondent inference theory?
Jones and Davis, 1965
What type of attributions do people prefer to make? Why?
Dispositional because they are more valuable with regard to making predictions about behavior
How do we assess whether there is a correspondence between behavior and personality?
Process three key types of information: social desirability, choice, and non-common effects
Internal attribution is more likely when socially undesirable behaviors are observed
Choice (freely chosen?)
Internal attribution is more likely when the actor has freely chosen the given behavior
Internal attribution is more likely when the outcome of a behavior has a unique effect
How is the correspondent inference theory limited?
It is limited to single instances of behavior and focuses on internal attributions
How is the covariation model different from the correspondent inference theory?
- It accounts for multiple observational points and details the processes that result in external as well as internal attributions
- It expands on the correspondent inference theory
What is the covariation principle?
For something to be the cause of a particular behavior it must be present when the behavior is present and absent when the behavior is absent
Who developed the covariation model?
How do we determine causality with the covariation model?
We ascribe causality to the cause that covaries with the behavior to the greatest extent
What information is crucial for the covariation model to work?
When consensus information is high and consistency and distinctiveness information is low, what does this imply about causation?
Cause is internal disposition
If consensus information is low and consistency and distinctiveness information is high, what does this imply about causality?
Cause is external situation
Is Kelley's covariation model easily applied and consistently used by all?
No, it's idealized and individuals don't put the same amount of weight on each element (people pay more attention to target person information than the context)
What happens when Kelley's model isn't applied correctly?
What are attributional biases?
Tendency in particular contexts to make one type of attribution over another
What are the three most common attributional biases?
- Fundamental attribution error
- Actor-observer bias
- Self serving attributions
Who studied the fundamental attribution error?
Jones and Harris in 1967
What is the fundamental attribution error?
Tendency to make internal rather than external attributions for people's behavior
What study did Jones and Harris perform on the fundamental attribution error?
- Had participants read essays written by fellow students for or against Fidel Castro
- Students either picked their position on Castro or were assigned their position
- Participants were then asked to guess what attitude the person had toward Castro
- In choice condition participants reasonably assumed the writer had written based on their own opinion
- Participants also thought that the essay reflected the writer's opinion in the non-choice condition as well
Why does the fundamental attribution error occur?
Perceptual salience - person being observed is the most perceptually salient aspect of the situation, so an internal attribution becomes much more accessible
True or false: In non-Western cultures, the tendency to make internal attributions is just as fundamental as in Western cultures
False: less fundamental in non-Western
What is the tendency for people to attribute their own behavior to external causes but that of others to internal factors?
The actor-observer bias
Who performed an important study on the actor-observer bias?
What methods did Storms use in his study?
- Two participants as observers and two as conversational actors
- Two actors had a conversation with each other while being observed by the other two
- The observers were then asked to attribute causality and judge whether the opinions reflected by the actors reflected their stable personality or not
- Observers focused attention on the actor they were facing
- Observers emphasized dispositional factors when explaining the actor's behaviors, but the actors emphasized situational factors when explaining their own behavior
- This is caused by perceptual salience: actor's attention is away from them (external) and observer's attention is on the actor (internal)
- Note that the actor-observer bias was reversed when the actors were shown videotapes of their opposite perspective before making attributions leading them to make internal attributions instead of the before stated external ones
Olson and Ross, 1988, say what about the self serving attribution bias?
The pervasive tendency to attribute successes to internal, personal attributions and failure to external factors outside of our control is how we protect and maintain our self esteem
How does the self serving attribution bias work on a group level?
We tend to attribute our group's successes to internal factors and other group's successes to external factors
What negative effects can intergroup attributions cause?
Can serve to propagate prejudice and discrimination in society
What effect does our state of mind have on the types of attributions we make?
State of mind can sometimes determine if we make an internal or external attribution
Who studied the effects of the state of mind on attributions?
What did Neumann test in 2000?
- Participants were primed by pairing 20 symbols depicting everyday activities with 20 phrases describing the activities
- They then had to come up with either self or other referent sentences, depending on which condition they had been assigned
- After this, participants were instructed to go to a second lab down the hall and when they entered the lab an experimenter shouted at them to get out
- Participants with self-referent mindset were more likely to react with guilt (internal attribution)
- Participants with other-referent mindset were more likely to react with anger (external attribution)
- Suggests that whether we feel guilty or angry after something bad happens may depend on factors entirely unrelated to the situation
What do Neumann's finding support?
Weiner's 1986 idea that anger emerges from external attributions for negative events while guilt from the internal attribution for negative events
How are attitudes formed?
Through self perception
What is social influence?
When we attribute credibility to people, we believe in them
What is romantic love, according to attributions?
We are fooled into love because we are making mis-attributions
Who studied social representations?
What does Moscovici have to say about social representations?
Social representation refer to shared beliefs and understandings between broad groups of people and these can include culturally held and transmitted knowledge about causal relations
According the the theory of social representations, how is understanding of causality transformed and communicated?
- Through informal discussion to form a common-place, consensually held belief - a social representation
- This is in line with Heider's assertions that we are all naive scientists, attempting to make sense of the world around us
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