Psychological Models of Attribution

models of attribution

Attribution is a psychological concept that refers to how people see the sources of their everyday experiences as external or internal. The models used to explain this process are known as attribution theory.

Psychologists have found numerous biases in how humans attribute causation, particularly when dealing with others. The fundamental attribution error refers to the tendency to assign dispositional or personality-based reasons for behavior rather than taking into account environmental circumstances. In other words, a person prefers to believe that other people are responsible for their own tragedies, while blaming external reasons for one’s own tragedy.

Austrian psychologist Fritz Heider founded Attribution theory in the early 20th century, during a time when psychologists were furthering research on personality, social psychology, and human motivation. Heider conducted his research alone, but he stated that he did not want Attribution theory to be attributed to him because many different ideas and people were involved.

Naive Psychology

Fritz Heider proposed “common sense” or “naïve psychology” as a concept for understanding interpersonal relationships. His thesis held that humans observe, evaluate, and explain behaviors through explanations. Although humans have various reasons for human behavior, Heider discovered that categorizing explanations into two types is particularly useful: internal (personal) and external (situational) attributions.

When an internal attribution is made, the cause of the behavior is assigned to the individual’s attributes such as aptitude, personality, mood, efforts, attitudes, or disposition. When an external attribution is made, the cause of the observed behavior is assigned to the situation in which it occurred, such as the task, other people, or luck. These two sorts produce quite distinct opinions of the individual doing a behavior.

Correspondent Inference

According to Edward E. Jones and Keith Davis’ correspondent inference theory, people make inferences about others when their actions are freely chosen, unexpected, and result in a small number of desirable effects. It describes how people try to find out an individual’s personal characteristics from the behavioral evidence. People make inferences on the basis of three factors; degree of choice, expectedness of behavior, and effects of someone’s behaviors.

For example, we are able to make stronger assumptions about a man who contributes half of his money to charity than about someone who gives only $5. An average person would not want to donate as much as the first man because it would result in a significant financial loss.

The second aspect influencing correspondence of action and inferred attribute is the quantity of changes between the choices made and earlier possibilities. If there are few differences, the assumption will match the action because it is simple to determine the most essential component of each option.

Perceived Locus of Causality

Heider first established the concept of perceived locus of causality in order to define interpersonal perceptions of one’s surroundings. This model describes how people perceive the causation of various events, whether they occur outside or internally. (These initial perceptions are called attributions.)

These attributions are considered as a continuum from external to internal motivation. knowledge an individual’s causal perception also leads to a better knowledge of how to motivate an individual in specific tasks by improving autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

Knowledge of an individual’s causality perception also leads to a better knowledge of how to motivate an individual in specific tasks by improving autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Deci and Ryan’s notion of self-determination was developed from the theory of perceived locus of causality.

Self-determination theory use perceived locus of causality to assess sentiments of autonomy resulting from individual acts. As a result, businesses and psychologists have begun looking at perceived locus of causality to understand how to raise an individual’s motivation and goal orientation in order to improve effectiveness in their respective industries.

According to related research, audience members at sporting events frequently ascribe their team’s victories to internal causes and their team’s defeats to external factors. This is an example of self-serving attribution error, also known as fundamental attribution error, and it is more common than one might expect.

Covariation Model

According to the covariation model, people ascribe behavior to factors that are present when the behavior occurs and absent when it does not. Thus, the theory argues that people make causal attributions in a rational, logical manner, assigning the cause of an action to the element that co-varies most closely with that action.

Harold Kelley’s covariation model of attribution recognizes three primary types of information from which to make an attribution decision about an individual’s behavior.

The first is consensus information, which describes how other people in the same situation and with the same stimuli behave. The second is distinctive information, or how an individual reacts to various stimuli. The third type of information is consistency information, which describes how frequently an individual’s behavior can be observed with similar stimuli but in different contexts.

There are several levels in the covariation model: high and low. Each of these levels influences the three covariation model criteria.

High consensus occurs when a large number of people agree on an event or topic of interest. When there is little agreement among people, it is referred to as low consensus. When an event or area of interest is exceedingly unique, its distinctiveness is high; when it is rather common, it has low distinctness. High consistency is when the event or area of interest continues for a length of time and low consistency is when the event or area of interest goes away quickly.

Three-dimensional Model

Bernard Weiner hypothesized that humans have initial affective responses to the potential repercussions of the actor’s intrinsic or extrinsic motivations, which then impact future conduct. That is, a person’s beliefs or attributions as to why they succeeded or failed in an activity influence the amount of effort they will put out in future endeavors.

Weiner suggests that people use their attribution search and cognitively analyze incidental aspects of the activities they observe. When attributions provide positive affect and a high expectation of future success, they should result in a stronger desire to undertake similar achievement tasks in the future than attributions that cause negative affect and a low expectation of future success.

Weiner’s achievement attribution has three categories:

  • stable theory (stable and unstable)
  • locus of control (internal and external)
  • controllability (controllable or uncontrollable)

Stability influences individuals’ expectancy about their future; control is related with individuals’ persistence on mission; causality influences emotional responses to the outcome of task.

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