Last Updated 22 Mar 2021

Attribution Theory Definition

Essay type Definition
Words 1030 (4 pages)
Views 343

Attribution theory is concerned with how people interpret events and relate them to their thinking and behavior. It's a cognitive perception which affects their motivation. This theory was first proposed in a book called, The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations by Fritz Heider in 1958. According to Heider, men behave as amateur scientists in social situations. He also said that, we generally explain behavior in two ways; either we attribute the behavior to a person or a situation. Attribution literally means a grant of responsibility. Albeit, the theory was first proposed by Heider (1958), later Edward E.

Jones (1972) and Harold Kelley (1967) developed a theoretical structure, which is now seen as an epitome of social psychology. The theory divides the behavior attributes into two parts, external or internal factors. Internal attribution: When an internal attribution is made, the cause of the given behavior is within the person, i. e. the variables which make a person responsible like attitude, aptitude, character and personality. External attribution: When an external attribution is made, the cause of the given behavior is assigned to the situation in which the behavior was seen.

The person responsible for the behavior may assign the causality to the environment or weather. In 1967, Kelley tried to explain the way people perceive internal and external attribution. He tried this, postulating the principle of co-variation. This model was known as Covariation Model. The basic principle of the covariation model states that the effect is attributed to one of the causes which co-varies over time. It also means that the behavior at various occasions varies. The covariation model considers three major types of information to make an attribution decision and to observe a person's behavior.

Haven’t found the relevant content? Hire a subject expert to help you with Attribution Theory Definition

$35.80 for a 2-page paper

Hire verified expert

The three types of information are: Consensus information: This responds to the fact, how people with similar stimuli behave in similar situations. If most people behave alike, i. e. their reactions are shared by many, the consensus is high. But, if no one or only a few people share the reactions, the consensus is low. Distinctiveness information: This is about, how a person responds to different situations. There exists a very low distinctiveness if the person reacts similarly in all or most of the situations.

However, if a person reacts differently in different situations, it is said that the distinctiveness is high. Consistency information: If the response of a person to different stimulus and in varied situations remains the same, then the consistency is high. But Kelly's covariation model has some limitations. The most prominent being that, it fails to distinguish between the intentional and unintentional behavior. Read more at Buzzle: http://www. buzzle. com/articles/attribution-theory-of-social-psychology. html Kelley's Covariation Model Kelley’s (1967) covariation model is the best known attribution theory.

He developed a logical model for judging whether a particular action should be attributed to some characteristic (internal) of the person or the environment (external). The term covariation simply means that a person has information from multiple observations, at different times and situations, and can perceive the covariation of an observed effect and its causes. He argues that in trying to discover the causes of behavior people act like scientists. More specifically they take into account three kinds of evidence. Kelley believed that there were three types of causal information which influenced our judgments. Low factors = dispositional (internal) attributions.

  • Consensus: the extent to which other people behave in the same way in a similar situation. E. g. Alison smokes a cigarette when she goes out for a meal with her friend. If her friend smokes, her behavior is high in consensus. If only Alison smokes it is low.
  • Distinctiveness: the extent to which the person behaves in the same way in similar situations. If Alison only smokes when she is out with friends, her behavior is high in distinctiveness. If she smokes at any time or place, distinctiveness is low.
  • Consistency: the extent to which the person behaves like this every time the situation occurs. If Alison only smokes when she is out with friends, consistency is high. If she only smoke on one special occasion, consistency is low.

Let’s look at an example to help understand his particular attribution theory. Our subject is called Tom. His behavior is laughter. Tom is laughing at a comedian.

  • Consensus: Everybody in the audience is laughing. Consensus is high. If only Tom is laughing consensus is low.
  • Distinctiveness: Tom only laughs at this comedian. Distinctiveness is high. If Tom laughs at everything distinctiveness is low.
  • Consistency: Tom always laughs at this comedian. Consistency is high. Tom rarely laughs at this comedian consistency is low.

Now, if everybody laughs at this comedian, if they don’t laugh at the comedian who follows and if this comedian always raises a laugh then we would make an external attribution, i. e. we assume that Tom is laughing because the comedian is very funny. On the other hand, if Tom is the only person who laughs at this comedian, if Tom laughs at all comedians and if Tom always laughs at the comedian then we would make an internal attribution, i. . we assume that Tom is laughing because he is the kind of person who laughs a lot. So what we’ve got here is people attributing causality on the basis of correlation. That is to say, we see that two things go together and we therefore assume that one causes the other. One problem however is that we may not have enough information to make that kind of judgment. For example, if we don’t know Tom that well we wouldn’t necessarily have the information to know if his behavior is consistent over time. So what do we do then?

According to Kelley we fall back on past experience and look for either:

  1. Multiple necessary causes. For example, we see an athlete win a marathon and we reason that she must be very fit, highly motivated, have trained hard etc. and that she must have all of these to win
  2. Multiple sufficient causes. For example, we see an athlete fail a drug test and we reason that she may be trying to cheat, or have taken a banned substance by accident or been tricked into taking it by her coach. Any one reason would be sufficient.

Haven’t found the relevant content? Hire a subject expert to help you with Attribution Theory Definition

$35.80 for a 2-page paper

Hire verified expert

Cite this page

Attribution Theory Definition. (2017, Apr 04). Retrieved from

Not Finding What You Need?

Search for essay samples now

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Save time and let our verified experts help you.

Hire verified expert