PSYCH 215 Lecture Oct 17
Attribution Theory : when it comes to how we perceive social objects, social
psychologists didn’t know how to do this. They didn’t know how to get behavior into
the equation. How do we include behavior? Fritz Heider of the balance theory.
Wrote a paper about a man rowing a boat across the river, and people read it
because Heider is well respected.
Enjoyed analysis of the guy. But so what? Sat like this for many years.
Several years letter he was resurrected leading to an explosion at least as big
as cognitive dissonance.
What was so ground breaking and no one paid attention?
ANALYSIS: A rowboat is the only object where you’re facing the wrong way
from where you’re going: what factors might influence whether or not the
guy gets across successfully? Must have talent, must be motivated, need to
know about the current
o There are a bunch of factors that influence how the boat gets from one
side to the other
o Heider was bringing behavior into the equation of social judgments
Understanding = CAUSE
o When we make judgments we are trying to understand, what makes
o Heider- we are trying to understand another person
o If we understand another person we can interact with them
effectively, behaving a certain way- we know what to do about it. Are
they coming to borrow money, to do a favor, to get closer to me?
o All I see is their actions and what they’re doing.
o What is it about them I’m trying to understand? Their BEHAVIOR.
o We notice with time that we can simplify behavior, when we simplify
we can study.
o Scientists want to UNDERSTAND their universe/ or don’t live in. Want
to know with confidence, the cause of the event.
o As soon as we think we know someone is behaving the way they are,
you feel you understand and are thus satisfied. We think we have the
information that allows us to interact affectively.
o We are like junior scientists.
o Scientists look through thousands of variables and chose one to focus
on: why are grade three kids not doing well
o We: want to understand behavior of everyone (even if you don’t
know the other person)- EX. how do you do a long distance
relationship? They skype.
o Whenever confronted with behavior all day long, not only when it’s
directed towards me, I want to understand.
o But we don’t have time or energy to be a scientist with every
interaction- thus we make judgments and causal explanations. EX. I
know what caused her to be nice, caused be me… or it might be
caused by her being nice to everyone even if I’m a loser.
o So we do lots of shortcuts, and we often make judgments with not
enough data… the important thing is we think we know the cause.
o Whenever we’re confronted by behavior, I’m going to be thinking
what are the possible causes?
o Make a list of possibilities and assume it’s a certain one
o She may be positive towards me: I’m a great guy, she wants a letter of
recommendation, she feels pity for me for being a loser FOCUS or
arrive at the decision
o We don’t have the time to exhaust all the possibilities: must decide
o If you’re wrong interaction will go badly, I will start behaving in ways
that will turn her off, the misunderstanding of the causes leads to
different expectations and will not be an effective interaction.
o Internal/ external
Instead of thinking of multiple causes: I can take any behavior
and list numerous and be able to divide into two- internal and
The guy rowing the boat: talent, motivation- INTERNAL- in
External- how much current in the water. He doesn’t control
this. Hurdle he must overcome. Not his fault.
Fundamental distinctions: internal vs. external
Suppose guy is going to see his love on the other side, he is the
cause of not getting there: he doesn’t love her enough
External- he loves her to death and is rowing his heart out, but
it’s the current!!
So is it internal or external?
o Stable/ unstable
Stable: the guy isn’t very strong, yes he could bulk up and may
be strong enough to row, but as far as we can see, his strength
Unstable: how hard he is trying. Lazy or motivated? We value
certain things but this is unstable. Do we try hard or just coast?
The wind= unstable. It changes hour by hour. Or it could be
If something is stable and external like wind, that’s a hurdle I
must overcome no matter when I chose to do it. Can’t wait to
the evening, if it is stable there will be wind regardless of time.
o Internal stable, internal unstable, external stable, external unstable
Student comes knocking on the door to discuss a failed exam. On one side,
key actor is on prof. The cause he attributes has important consequences.
Attribution theory : when it comes to how we perceive social objects, social psychologists didn"t know how to do this. They didn"t know how to get behavior into the equation. Wrote a paper about a man rowing a boat across the river, and people read it because heider is well respected. Several years letter he was resurrected leading to an explosion at least as big as cognitive dissonance. Their behavior: we notice with time that we can simplify behavior, when we simplify we can study, scientists want to understand their universe/ or don"t live in. Want to know with confidence, the cause of the event: as soon as we think we know someone is behaving the way they are, you feel you understand and are thus satisfied. Instead of thinking of multiple causes: i can take any behavior and list numerous and be able to divide into two- internal and external.