Do we make accurate attributions?
PSYCHOLOGY - SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY - ATTRIBUTION THEORY Attribution theory explains how the individual social perciever uses information to make causal explanations for events. That is to say, attribution theory is how we explain what happens around us. There is no grand unifying theory of attribution and several theories have been suggested for how we do this, but do we attribute accurately? Are we accurate judges of the causes of events?
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Correspondent Inference Theory (Jones and Davis 1965)
When considering events we make the inference that behaviour corresponds to an underlying disposition. If we see someone kicking a cat this is because they are a cruel person. Not only is this rational and often accurate it is useful because it helps us make sense of the world around us and doesn't leave us with the distressing feeling that actions have no observable cause.
This is not always accurate, as events can be caused by situational factors. e.g man kicks cat not because he is cruel, but because he is emotional as cat has just eaten his hamster. Ignoring situational factors is actually a bias which means that our attributions are less accurate!
Analysis of non-common effects
People look at effects of actions, note what effects occurr that would not have occurred otherwise, and attribute the actions to desiring these effects. E.g A child chooses school A over school B. School A has a swimming pool. Attribution - the child did so because he likes swimming. Again this is a rational approach to attributing causal explanations to behaviour.
Co-variation Model (Kelley 1967)
People often observe multiple instances of behaviour to help them make accurate attributions. They look at the distinctiveness (happen only when entity is there), consistency (happen only when entity is there) and consensus (others experince this with entity) to establish the cause of the action.
This doesn't work when there is only one action, as you can't compare to other instances, therefore attributions using this methid cannot always be accurate.
Attributions vary by culture (Hedden et al 2000)
When a Chinese physics student studying in the US shot his adviser, fellow students and himself the attributions made by the Chinese and the American media differed. American media attributed his behaviour to his disposition and Chinese media to the situation (he was isolated from the chinese commuity, guns are readily available in the U.S). This difference of attributions by different nationalities suggests we are not always accurate.
This does not mean the attributions are necessarily less accrurate - the culture of the West is individualised and the East collectivised, so these causes may in fact be right. Also, there may be more than one cause - the Chinese student may have been both and agressive person (dispositional) and also alienated at school (situational).
Fundamental Attribution Error
People are much more likely to make dispositional rather than situational attributions i.e blame the person's character not the aspects of the situation. There are a few explanations for this ("behaviour engulfs the field"[Heider 1958]], cognitive processing explanation[Gilbert Pelham and Krull 1988]]) This clearly means our attributions are innaccurate, as we favour blaming the person even when that is not the cause.
The F.A.E. does not always happen - this does not happen as often when HIndu Indians are making attributions as it does when US americans are.[Miller (1984)]]
ALSO the F.A.E does not apply when the actor is making the attribution. See Actor/Observer Divergence
Actor Observer Divergence
"There is a pervasive tendency for actors to attribute thier actions to situational requirements, whereas observers tend to attribute the same actions to stable personal dispositions" [Jones and Nisbett 1972]] This would also suggest that we make inaccurate attributions.
Self Serving Bias / Motivational bias (Johnson, Fegenbaum and Weiby 1964)
"That reason is sought that is personally acceptable. It is usually a reason that flatters us"[Heider 1958]] We make attributions that make us feel positive about ourselves. Our success is due to our ability, our failure is due to adverse situations. Although this is a nice way of looking at things, it cannot be claimed to be consistently the most accurate!
Just World Hypothesis (Jones and Aronson 1973)
We assume bad things happen to bad people. This means that our view of the world as a stable,predictable, just, place is upheld, which provides psychological reassurance. This does lead, however, to very inaccurate attributions such as 'she was raped because she was promiscuous'.
Different people have different attributional styles
Gender and levels of self esteem have both been seen to affect how people make attributions. If we all attribute differently we cannot all be doing so accurately!
What do you think?