Evaluate the Contribution of ‘Attribution Theories’ and Related Research in Helping Us to Understand the Way in Which People Perceive and Explain Their Social Environment. Essay

Evaluate the contribution of ‘attribution theories’ and related research in helping us to understand the way in which people perceive and explain their social environment. Through out our everyday lives, we spend most of our time with other people. Attribution theories purpose that people distinguish between internal or dispositional factors and external or situational factors in their own attempts to understand behaviour. One of the first theorists in this area was Heider.

As cited by Meill, Phonix and Thomas Book 1 Chapter 7, Heider argued that all attributions of causality could be understood in terms of these two sets of factors and saw them as representing a dimension of causality, the more we attribute a persons behaviour to their inner disposition, the less we attribute it to the external situation they are in. To evaluate the contribution of attribution theories and related research, the theorists who put forward ideas relating to attribution after Heider need to be looked at.

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Harold Kelley (1967) extended the attribution theory in various ways. He argued that the ways in which people make casual attributions depends on the information available to them. Kelley developed an account of how we use information in casual reasoning known as the covariation model. The covariation mode purposes that we make sense of current behaviour by considering information from the past and the present relating to is consistency, consensus and distinctiveness (C. C. D. ). This information about C. C. D. is used to make a dispositional or situational attribution.

One major advantage to Kelley’s theory is that it offers precise and testable predictions about how different levels of C. C. D. information should lead to different attributions. Mc Arthur (1972) tested Kelley’s corvariaton model of attribution with a social experiment based on vignettes using sixteen different behavioural events. Mc Arthur wanted to test the effect of these different types and levels of information to the nature of the casual attributions made by each participant. The social experiment conducted on the vignettes showed people use C.

C. D. in the ways predicted by Kelley’s theory. If someone’s behaviour has high consensus, high consistency and high distinctiveness then we will make a situational attribution. In contrast we will make a dispositional attribution if someone’s behaviour has low consensus, low consistency and low distinctiveness. Other research has questioned Kelley’s theory. Some evidence would suggest that our judgments on behaviour are often not rational and this departure from rationality gives rise to the fundamental attribution error (F.

A. E. ). The F. A. E is the tendency, when explaining the behaviour of other people, to favour internal rather than external attributions (Book 1 Mapping Psychology chapter 7 pg 75). People often exaggerate the importance of disposition and minimise that of the situation as causes of behaviour. One negative aspect of F. A. E. is it has less importance in everyday life than in a laboratory. In everyday life we realise that many people have a hidden agendas and emotions that may influence their behaviour in certain situations.

When we look at our own behaviour we tend to focus on external attributions and this is reffered to as the actor-observer effect in attribution. Storms (1973) carried out an experiment to investigate the nature or cause of the actor-observer effect. In this experiment two participants took part in a get acquainted conversation and two participants observed them. Two videos were made of the conversations one from the actor’s point of view and the other from the observer’s point of view. Some of the attributions of the actor’s behaviour after watching one of the two videos.

Storms found that the explanation of the actor observing himself or herself moved more into line with those of the observers demonstrating the actor-observer effect. It can be seen storms evidence supports perceptual explanations of the actor –observer effect. The actor-observer effect does not always apply. Situational attributions are more common for actors than observers, but differences between actors and observers in dispositional attributions are less commonly found like in storms experiment.

Other psychologists have come up with evidence that people have a tendency to attribute there success to internal causes and there failures to external and this has been identified as the self serving bias. This can be seen in the study of attribution in sports pages by Lau and Russell (1986). In this study stimulus material was taken from media reports. Lau and Russell then predicated that sports players and managers would explain the outcome of games if games were won or lost showing evidence of a self-serving bias.

They study found that there was a greater tendency to attribute wins to internal factors than to external factors. Various explanations have been suggested for this self-serving bias. One is a cognitive bias, what we expect to happen. If we want to succeed at something we put effort into obtaining success. So if our internal intention is confirmed by success then it would be understandable that we attribute our behaviour to internal actors rather than external and if we fail despite great efforts we tend to attribute failure to situational factors.

Another possible reason for self-serving bias is motivational bias, where we are driven by a need to enhance our self-esteem or present ourselves on the best possible way. It could be interpreted that the motivation to protect or enhance self-esteem may underline the self-serving bias. Although it also could be argued that high self-esteem is the cause of self-serving bias which would support the cognitive bias explanation of self-serving bias. Attribution theories and its related research have contributed in helping us to understand the way in which we perceive and try to explain the social environment.

Kelley’s attribution theory gave us the idea that we decide whether to make a dispositional or situational attribution to someone else’s behaviour on the basis of information about C. C. D. The fundamental attribution error suggested we tend to attribute the behaviour of others to their disposition or personality rather than to situational factors. Other related research gave us the actor-observer effect, where we tend to attribute our own behaviour to situational factors.

The self-serving bias may depend on motivational factors or cognitive factors. As it can be seen attribution theories and related research has helped understanding and perception of the social environment but has failed to look at the fact people are just as likely to provide information as well as receive information. References Phoneix,A(2007). Identities and diversities. In D. Miell, A . Phoenix,&K. Thomas (Eds). Mapping Psychology (2nd ed. ,pp. 43-95). Milton Keynes. The Open University.


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