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Theories of causal attribution: definition and authors

Theories of causal attribution: definition and authors

April 20, 2024

Social psychology tries to describe the laws that regulate the interaction between people and their influence on behavior, thought and emotion.

From this branch of psychology, theories have been formulated about how we explain our own behavior and that of others, as well as the events that happen to us; These models are known as "theories of causal attribution" .

  • Related article: "What is Social Psychology?"

Theory of the causal attribution of Heider

The Austrian Fritz Heider formulated in 1958 the first theory of causal attribution to explain the factors that influence our perception of the causes of events .

Heider opined that people act as 'naive scientists': we connect events with unobservable causes to understand the behavior of others and to predict future events, thus obtaining a sense of control over the environment. However, we tend to make simple causal attributions that take into account especially one type of factor.

The attributional model of Heider distinguishes between internal or personal and external or environmental attributions . While the ability and motivation to carry out behaviors are internal factors, the luck and difficulty of the task stand out among the situational causes.

If we attribute our own behavior to internal causes, we take responsibility for it, whereas if we believe that the cause is external, this does not happen.

  • Related article: "Fundamental Error of Attribution: pigeonholing people"

Theory of the corresponding inferences of Jones and Davis

The attribution theory of Edward E. Jones and Keith Davis was proposed in 1965. The central concept of this model is that of "corresponding inference", which refers to the generalizations we make about the behavior that other people will have in the future based on how we have explained their previous behavior.

Fundamentally, Jones and Davis stated that we make corresponding inferences when we believe that certain behaviors of a person are due to their way of being. To make these attributions, in the first place it is necessary that we can affirm that the person had the intention and the capacity to carry out the action.

Once the attribution of intention is done, there will be a greater probability that we will also make a dispositional attribution if the evaluated behavior has effects that are not common with other behaviors that could have occurred, if it is poorly viewed socially, if it affects the actor intensely (hedonic relevance) ) and if it is directed to who makes the attribution (personalism).

Kelley's covariation and configuration model

Harold Kelley formulated in 1967 a theory that distinguishes between causal attributions based on a single observation of behavior and those that are based on multiple observations.

According to Kelley, if we have only made one observation, the attribution is made based on the configuration of the possible causes of the behavior. For this we use the causal schemes , beliefs about the types of causes that cause certain effects.

They emphasize the scheme of multiple sufficient causes, which is applied when an effect may be due to one of several possible causes, and that of multiple necessary causes, according to which several causes must concur for an effect to occur. The first of these schemes is usually applied to habitual events and the second to more infrequent ones.

On the other hand, when we have information from different sources we will attribute the event to the person, to the circumstances or to the stimulus based on the consistency, the distinctiveness and the consensus around the behavior.

Specifically, we attribute an event more easily to the personal dispositions of the actor when the consistency is high (the person reacts the same in different circumstances), the distinctiveness is low (it behaves in the same way before multiple stimuli) and the consensus also (other people they do not perform the same behavior).

The causal attribution of Weiner

The theory of causal attribution of Bernard Weiner, of 1979, proposes that we distinguish the causes according to three bipolar dimensions: stability, controllability and locus of control. Each event would be located at a certain point of these three dimensions, giving rise to eight possible combinations.

Poles stability and instability refer to the duration of the cause. Likewise, the events can be totally controllable or uncontrollable, or be placed in an intermediate point in this dimension. By last, the control locus refers to whether the event is mainly due to internal or external factors; this dimension is equivalent to Heider's attribution theory.

Different people can make different causal attributions before the same event; for example, while for some, suspending an examination would be due to lack of capacity (internal and stable cause), for others it would be a consequence of the difficulty of the examination (external and unstable cause). These variations have a key influence on expectations and self-esteem .

  • Maybe you're interested: "What is the control locus?"

Attributional biases

Very often we make causal attributions in a wrong way from the logical point of view. This is largely due to the presence of attributional biases, systematic distortions in the way we process information when interpreting the causes of events.

  • Related article: "Cognitive biases: discovering an interesting psychological effect"

1. Fundamental attribution error

The fundamental attribution error refers to the human tendency to attribute the behaviors to internal factors of the person who carries them out, ignoring or minimizing the influence of situational factors.

2. Differences between actor and observer

While we usually attribute our own behaviors to circumstances and environmental factors, we interpret the same behaviors in others as a consequence of their personal characteristics.

3. False consensus and false peculiarity

People think that others have opinions and attitudes more similar to ours than they really are; we call this "bias of false consensus".

There is another complementary bias, that of the false peculiarity , according to which we tend to believe that our positive qualities are unique or infrequent even if it is not so.

4. Self-centered attribution

The concept of 'egocentric attribution' refers to the fact that we overestimate our contributions in collaborative tasks. As well we remember more the own contributions that those of the others .

5. Bias favorable to the self

The bias favorable to the self, also called autosirviente or self-sufficiency bias , refers to our natural tendency to attribute successes to internal factors and failures to external causes.

Self-serving bias protects self-esteem. It has been found that it is much less marked or occurs in an inverse sense in people with a tendency to depression; This is the basis of the concept of 'depressive realism'.

Kelly's Theory of Causal Attribution (April 2024).

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