Lecture IV January 30 2012h
Are explanations we generate for other people’s behaviour. This is like saying X is Y for
doing Z, X is blank, or X is Y. We generate these in order to explain why X does Y. They
are causal judgements about why an event or behaviour occurred. However, we do this for
our behaviour as well. Anytime you ask a question like why did X do/get Y, the answer
will be made up of attributions.
Internal: Cause is inside the individual, dependent on skills, abilities of the person,
controlled (I am X).
External: Cause is outside the individual, not dependent on skills, abilities, or talents, and
is uncontrolled (the professor was X).
Stable: Constant for long periods of time. Most likely to not change (the professor is nice,
and I am smart).
Unstable: Not constant and subject to change (studying patterns, luck, etc).
We can think of these four in a two by two matrix.
Stable and Internal: Traits of personality or person that don’t change too much. (I am
Stable and External: Traits that don’t change but are not the individuals (professor is
Unstable and Internal: You generated it, but the behaviour is subject to change (studying)
Unstable and External: Not generated by you and subject to changes (luck).
People tend to make different attributions depending on whether the outcome of the
situation was negative or positive. If the outcome is positive or something good and
desired, people will attribute it to themselves (internal). Yet, if the outcome is negative and
something bad or undesired, people will attribute it to external forces and keep their
positive self image.
This is a part of the self serving bias: the want to maintain a somewhat positive self
image. It is the desire to feel good and self-enhance. We don’t want to take the blame or
deal with failure that damages our image or self-enhancement, but we do want to take
credit for our successes. However, failure doesn’t have to counteract our success.
Attribution to Others
Guide how we respond to situations, how we understand what is happening, and how we
believe we should act. All of this will depend on how you interpret the event and the
attributions you give to it and the people involved. All the possible attributions have their
own course of action and they will guide your decisions for the future (e.g., I’m not smart
therefore I will give up).
Generating attributions for ourselves is different than when we generate them for others. When we generate attributions for ourselves, in regards to negative outcomes, we make
them external (we do not take the blame). When we generate them for others, we make
them internal (it is their fault). This is known as the actor/observer bias. The actors make
external attributions, observers, internal ones.
People’s negative outcomes get a lot of attributions from society (e.g., being homeless,
cheating, etc). These things will also generate a lot of different attributions. These are
important for how we view social justice, what we think social justice looks like, how we
view social problems, etc.
Fundamental Attribution Error
Observers tend to attribute peoples behaviour to internal and dispositional causes (traits,
personality, choices, skills) and not the situational causes (environment, etc). They fail to
think about the extent to which situations cause another persons behaviour. This is because
of salient features. When we observe other people, the thing that is salient is that other
person (over all the other stimuli available), not their environment. However, when you are
the actor, you are looking outward. Thus, you are paying attention to your environment.
The ultimate fundamental attribution error is when we attribute the behaviour of one
individual and extend that to their entire group. Thus, all homeless people become
mentally ill, etc. Basically, we say that their behaviour is due to a feature of the group.
The Supplementary Article
Think about how the fundamental attribution error applies.
Kelly’s Theory of Attribution
People assess three factors when making attributions:
1. Consensus: would others do the same thing in this similar situation (H: Yes, L: No)
2. Consistency: does this person behave this way across situations (H: Yes, L: No)
3. Distinctiveness: would they act differently in a different situation (High: Yes, L:
If something is H, H, H, we give it an external attribution. For example, if a Vision Aid
volunteer tries to talk to you on the street while you are on your way to class and you do
not stop to talk with them, your consensus is high. If you do not talk to any vision aid
volunteer, then your consistency is high and if you don’t stop to talk only with Vision Aid
volunteers (but do talk to other charities), then your distinctiveness is also high.
If something is L, H, L, we give it an internal attribution. If you do stop on the street to
talk to vision aid, your consensus is low. If you consistently stop on the street to talk to
vision aid, then your consistency is high. If you stop to talk on the street with other
charities, then your distinctiveness is low.
Golden Rule, social psychology version: make attributions unto others as you would
make unto yourself
Cultural Differences Individualism versus Collectivism (cultures) which reflects on Independence versus
Interdependence (thought styles).
I.I.: Focus on individual traits and uniqueness
C.I.: Focus on if they are a good group member and things that make them fit in
Hazel Rose Markus and Shinobu Kitayama
Self construal differences were thought to exist between U.S and Japanese
individuals. This view got further extended to American and Asian individuals,
and then into western and eastern individuals. Right now, this theory is much
more complex and it recognizes that there are differences between cultures, in
cultures, between individuals, and in groups, regardless of where they ‘belong’ on
They found that it is more common for people in America to emphasize on how
they are different from others (independent self construal). While in Asians,
emphasis was on how the self was connected to groups (interdependent self
This difference will guide people’s responses to another’s behaviour. Consider Shun
Fugimoto, 1976. During the Olympics, he broke he knee cap and didn’t tell anyone, but
still continued to participate and won a medal. When news coverage of the event was
compared in America and in Japan, notable differences arose. Japanese coverage focused
on attributions having to do with him being a part of a group; he wanted to make his
country proud, didn’t want to let his team down (focused on him as a member of groups
and how those groups intersected). In America, the focus was on attributions having to do
with him as an individual; he did this so he could live his dream, so he doesn’t let himself
down (all about his own satisfaction).
Is the process of examining yourself and your ‘status’ in comparison to others. This can be
an upwards (comparison to people better than you) or downwards process (worse than
you). Each serves the self knowledge and self enhancement motives (in different and
several ways). However, no matter which area we compare ourselves in, the outcome will
depend on who we are comparing ourselves to. Basically, it is how we feel about ourselves
in reference/ or through reference to others around us (consider the wealth example) and it
is driven by our desire to know where we stand.
Upwards: can make us feel bad about ourselves, but can also be motivating, provides us
with role models, and teaches us how to be successful. It is generally driven by the self
Downwards: makes us feel better, driven by self enhancement motive, doesn’t offer clues
about improvement, and doesn’t motivate us often. Can sometimes be motivating if you
think you are susceptible to the situation or events of the person you are comparing
yourself to, and use that as a guide as to what not to do. Consequences
Assimilation: I am like this person/this person is like me
Contrast: I am not like this person/this person is not like me.
Upwards Assimilation: I *could*/am close/etc to being like this better person
Downwards Assimilation: I could end up like that person
Upwards Contrast: I could never be as great as this person.
Downwards Contrast: I could never stoop so low.
Breast cancer patients like to use upwards assimilation (with breast cancer survivors)
instead of downwards assimilation and downwards contrast instead of upwards contrast.
Cultural Differences in Social Comparison
Lockwood, Marshall & Sadler, 2004
Had European and Asian Canadians read a self description written by another
student. The participants either made an upwards or a downwards comparison.
European Canadians were more motivated by the upwards comparison, Asian
Canadians by the downwards comparison.
Could you be like the target of the comparison? How applicable is this person to you? Is
their success attainable? If it is, an upwards comparison could be motivating. Could you
fail as they have? If yes, the downwards comparison could be motivating (make you work
harder, unless you think you can’t change).