The Attribution Theory

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The Attribution Theory

The Attribution Theory deals with individual interpretation of events and its connection with their thoughts and behavior. Fritz Heider was the one who made a proposal to develop an attribution theory but it was through the efforts of Bernard Weiner that a theory was formulated and became a paradigm in social psychology (Kearsley, n.d.).

Bernard Weiner

 Born in 1935, Bernard Weiner teaches psychology at the famous University of California, in Los Angeles. Weiner obtained his undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and in 1963 graduated with a Ph.D., from the University of Michigan. He initially taught at Minnesota before moving over to UCLA in 1965 where he is presently teaching psychology and serves as vice char of the Psychology Department. Aside from being the recipient of the Donald Campbell Research Award, Bernard Weiner likewise earned honorary degrees from the University of Bielefeld in Germany, and Turku University in Finland (Kearsley, n.d).

Among his famous works include An Attribution Theory of Motivation and Emotion, Judgments of Responsibility, and Human Motivation: Metaphors, Theories, and Research (Kearsley, n.d.).

Fritz Heider

Born in Vienna, Austria on February 8, 1986, Fritz Heider loved to read and was a diligent student. He studied at Austria’s University of Graz. After obtaining his Ph.D in 1920, Heider spent the next few years travelling around Europe, where he enrolled at the Psychological Institute of Berlin (Milite, 2001).

Ten years after earning his PH.D. Degree, Heider agreed to conduct a research at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts where he served as an assistant professor at Smith College (Milite, 2001).

Smith College was the venue of his research that paved the way for the development of his theories on interpersonal relations. In 1947, he transferred to Lawrence, Kansas where he took a job as a professor at the University of Kansas. Heider conducted his research carefully and methodically. Eventually he crafted his ideas and indicated them in The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations (Milite, 2001).

On January 2, 1988, Fritz Heider died in Lawrence, Kansas (Milite, 2001).

The Attribution Theory

The attribution theory provides assumptions that individuals attempt to find out why other people behave in such a manner. There are three processes involved in attribution. First, the behavior must be observable.   Second, it should be deliberately done. Third, the behavior should be attributed to inner or outside forces.

The focal point of Weiner’s attribution theory is towards achievement. According to him, factors such as effort, ability, luck, and task difficulty are the most vital factors that have an impact on achievement attribution. There are three causal dimensions that lead to attributions classification. These dimensions are locus of control, controllability, and stability.

Locus of control consists of an internal and external pole. On the other hand, stability determines whether the causes will be changed through time while controllability differentiates causes that are controllable from those that are uncontrollable.

Weiner’s theory of attribution is extensively used in various fields such as education, clinical psychology, law, and mental health.  It has been utilized in trying to determine variations in the motivation of high and low achievers.

Internal versus External Attribution

When we speak of attribution, it can be classified into internal or dispositional as well as external or situational. With the first kind of attribution, the cause of behavior was determined by an internal force. The individual is directly responsible for the circumstances of the event. With external attribution, a force coming from the outside can be attributed as the one that caused an individual’s behavior (Butterfield, 2007).

For better understanding let us cite an example. Suppose that, a student took an exam and gets the results of the quiz immediately. The student then takes a look at their score and sees that they got a 65%. The tendency of the student is to blame external forces such as their teachers, classmates, and others. This is an example of external attribution (Butterfield, 20070.

Now during the next set of tests, the student gets a 95% this time around. The causes that led to the high scores are attributed to internal factors such as studying hard for the said exam. In this case, the student showed internal attribution (Butterfield, 2007).

Internal attribution is best exemplified by a student who has high self-esteem and confidence in their abilities. They attribute success to their skills. On the other hand, persons who perceive any task as difficult or has little confidence in their skills may have the tendency to blame their failure to outside factors (Butterfield, 2007).

In my case, I use dispositional attribution most of the time. I rely on my skills to succeed in any endeavor I undertake.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

According to the Law of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, the response people give an individual depends on what kind of response the individual expects. For example, if a person feels that they will be treated badly, then that is what they will get (Bragg, 2002).

There are two kinds of self-fulfilling prophecies. In Pygmalion Effect, a person’s treatment of another individual depends on their expectation of the other. In return, their actions will be determined by these expectations (Bragg, 2002).

The other kind of self-fulfilling prophecy is one wherein an individual modifies their behavior to conform to the prophecy. Stock brokers avoid selling or investing if they know that the stock market will fall (Bragg, 2002).

Self-fulfilling prophecies have the ability to sustain and reinforce themselves. Since they are rooted in the expectations of an individual, they can force a person to adapt to the prophecy to conform to the expectations (Bragg, 2002).

Attitude and Its Effects to Behavior

The question of whether or not attitude can predict the behavior of an individual has been a subject of a series of researches. In one study involving the attitude of motel and restaurant clerks towards Chinese customers revealed that of the 200 establishments included in the survey, there was only one instance when Chinese customers were not served. This is contrary to what 92% of the establishments said in the survey (Magee).

Likewise, the question of attitude affecting behavior is not applicable to individuals who do not have control over their actions. An example of this is an obsessive-compulsive individual.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 6 November 2016

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