Achieve Mastery of Medical Concepts

Study for medical school and boards with Lecturio

Attribution Theory

Attribution theory details how a person perceives and ascribes causal explanations for another's behaviors. Often, we attribute negative or positive behavior either to that individual's personality traits or to the situation at hand Hand The hand constitutes the distal part of the upper limb and provides the fine, precise movements needed in activities of daily living. It consists of 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges, as well as numerous muscles innervated by the median and ulnar nerves. Hand: Anatomy. This determination may be based on cultural ideals, by the presence (or absence) of a motivation, or by judging a cause of behavior as necessary or sufficient.

Last updated: Aug 13, 2022

Editorial responsibility: Stanley Oiseth, Lindsay Jones, Evelin Maza

Introduction to Attribution Theory

Many psychologists have asked why people tend to look for causative explanations for others’ behavior. Heider argued that most people are simply naive psychologists who prefer to find explanations for every behavior. Thus, people can link some behavior to the events that lead to the behavior or to the personality of the individual who expresses the behavior.

Additionally, it has been noted that attributing behavior to persons or situations is different among different cultures, but it is still a universal phenomenon. While Western societies are more likely to judge someone’s behavior by their personality traits, Asian cultures usually blame the situation or events for negative behaviors.

Internal versus External Attribution

The observation by psychologists that most people attribute behaviors either to persons or to situations meant that a clear distinction between the 2 attributions needed to be made.

Internal attribution was defined as the process by which individuals explain others’ behaviors by linking said behaviors to their personality traits, beliefs, and culture.

External attribution, on the other hand Hand The hand constitutes the distal part of the upper limb and provides the fine, precise movements needed in activities of daily living. It consists of 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges, as well as numerous muscles innervated by the median and ulnar nerves. Hand: Anatomy, occurs when someone links others’ behaviors to the situation, to the events that led to the behavior, or to the environment. Asian cultures are generally nonjudgmental and very sensitive to others’ feelings, so people from these cultures prefer to use external attribution.

Intentional versus Accidental Behaviors and Attribution

Psychologists also noticed that people usually try to explain intentional behaviors, rather than accidental behaviors, by attribution. Therefore, a link between motives and behavior needs to be made before someone links certain behaviors to personality traits. This theory was put out by Jones and Davis in 1965 and helped explain why people sometimes choose internal attribution rather than external attribution.

Intentional behaviors usually have motives. Once a motive is linked to a certain behavior, people usually become more judgmental about the person who expresses that behavior, thus, connecting the behavior with the person and not with the situation.

Based on this, one can understand why the following behaviors are usually considered motivational and attributed to a person’s personality:

  • Behaviors that are freely chosen by an individual and are intentional
  • Behaviors that are not accepted socially
  • Behaviors that are believed to directly benefit or harm others
  • Behaviors that can have any impact on us

On the other hand Hand The hand constitutes the distal part of the upper limb and provides the fine, precise movements needed in activities of daily living. It consists of 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges, as well as numerous muscles innervated by the median and ulnar nerves. Hand: Anatomy, the following behaviors are more likely to be attributed to the situation:

  • Accidental behaviors
  • Behaviors that are socially acceptable
  • Behaviors that do not affect us directly
Freely chosen behaviors Accidental behaviors
  • Intentional
  • Not accepted socially
  • Benefit or harm others
  • Attributed to a specific person
  • Socially accepted
  • Do not affect others directly
  • Attributed to situation

How Do We Define Behaviors as Motivational?

Psychologists then moved on to study how humans define certain behaviors as intentional, as socially unacceptable, or as impacting us personally. By identifying factors that lead us to use internal attribution, we can understand, and later modify, our behaviors to be more acceptable to society.

The 1st factor that was identified is consensus. When someone’s behavior agrees with another’s behavior in each situation, their behavior is usually attributed to the situation rather than to them personally.

Example 1

When someone checks the time on his or her phone while at dinner with friends, his behavior can be judged as negative versus normal based on whether other people also checked their phones or used their phones during the dinner. If he is the only person who used his phone, people might attribute this behavior to him personally rather than to the situation (i.e., it is getting late and tomorrow is a workday).

Example 2

Smoking Smoking Willful or deliberate act of inhaling and exhaling smoke from burning substances or agents held by hand. Interstitial Lung Diseases can be judged as normal or as a negative behavior based on consistency Consistency Dermatologic Examination. If a person always smokes, regardless of the situation and time, the behavior is considered normal and is usually not attributed to that person’s personality. On the other hand Hand The hand constitutes the distal part of the upper limb and provides the fine, precise movements needed in activities of daily living. It consists of 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges, as well as numerous muscles innervated by the median and ulnar nerves. Hand: Anatomy, we tend to favor internal attribution when someone smokes only when they are very worried or stressed out.

According to this theory, we can notice that humans prefer to correlate behavior with certain factors to define whether it was personal or situational. This theory explains when and why we prefer to use internal versus external attribution of behaviors.

Necessary versus Sufficient Causes

In addition to correlating behavior with certain factors to determine whether a behavior was grounded in a personal motivation, we also tend to look for causes for behaviors. Such causes might be judged as

  • Necessary: We believe that without them, an individual would not be able to express a certain behavior. OR
  • Sufficient: We believe that an individual expressed a certain behavior because of an “excuse.”

A sufficient cause is often not a necessary cause; other factors may lead to the behavior. Necessary causes are, therefore, usually attributed to positive behaviors, while sufficient causes are usually ascribed to negative behaviors.

Example 1

If a researcher publishes many good, impactful papers and original articles in journals, we usually attribute this success to the researcher’s high level of motivation, organizational skills, and the ability to acquire new scientific facts—thus, internal attribution.

Example 2

That same individual has a paper retracted from a journal. We already have a predetermined picture about that person and would find ways to explain other potential causes. Perhaps one of his students was responsible for the scientific or copyright mistake that led to the retraction. Maybe the subject he is working on is very controversial and many papers are being retracted in the field. Therefore, we tend to use external attribution in this situation.

The 1st example led us to look for necessary causes, those without which someone would not be successful in research Research Critical and exhaustive investigation or experimentation, having for its aim the discovery of new facts and their correct interpretation, the revision of accepted conclusions, theories, or laws in the light of newly discovered facts, or the practical application of such new or revised conclusions, theories, or laws. Conflict of Interest. On the other hand Hand The hand constitutes the distal part of the upper limb and provides the fine, precise movements needed in activities of daily living. It consists of 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges, as well as numerous muscles innervated by the median and ulnar nerves. Hand: Anatomy, the 2nd example showed sufficient causes. These causes are sufficient to explain the negative behavior and the negative consequence of that behavior—the paper being retracted.

Fundamental Attribution Error Error Refers to any act of commission (doing something wrong) or omission (failing to do something right) that exposes patients to potentially hazardous situations. Disclosure of Information (FAE)

The FAE is the tendency people have to overemphasize personal (internal) characteristics and ignore situational (external) factors in judging others’ behavior. The FAE occurs when we confuse the cause of an individual’s actions with the wrong attribution. Because of the FAE, we tend to believe that others do bad things because they are bad people, and ignore situational factors that might have played a role.

For example, if a person who is never late shows up late for work one day, we tend to believe that this must be due to factors beyond their control, and we use external attribution to explain the event. If, on the other hand Hand The hand constitutes the distal part of the upper limb and provides the fine, precise movements needed in activities of daily living. It consists of 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges, as well as numerous muscles innervated by the median and ulnar nerves. Hand: Anatomy, a person who is often late to work but one day is late because of being involved in a car accident, we will tend to blame the person’s lateness on bad behavior (internal attribution), before waiting to hear the true story; we will then commit an FAE.

References

  1. Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (1991). Social Cognition, 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  2. Heider, F. (1958). The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York: Wiley.
  3. Correspondent Inference Theory in Social Psychology (discusses the publication of Jones and Keith Davis in 1965). IResearchNet. 3 Jan. 2016, http://psychology.iresearchnet.com/papers/correspondent-inference-theory/.

USMLE™ is a joint program of the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB®) and National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME®). MCAT is a registered trademark of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). NCLEX®, NCLEX-RN®, and NCLEX-PN® are registered trademarks of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc (NCSBN®). None of the trademark holders are endorsed by nor affiliated with Lecturio.

Study on the Go

Lecturio Medical complements your studies with evidence-based learning strategies, video lectures, quiz questions, and more – all combined in one easy-to-use resource.

Learn even more with Lecturio:

Complement your med school studies with Lecturio’s all-in-one study companion, delivered with evidence-based learning strategies.

User Reviews

¡Hola!

Esta página está disponible en Español.

Details