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Chapter 5

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McGill University
PSYC 215
John Lydon

Chapter 5 -The observer is inclined to attribute actions to properties of the actor, whereas the actor is more inclined to attribute the same action to situational forces. -People engage in causal attribution because they need to draw inferences about others and themselves based on their behaviour. -Attribution Theory: An umbrella term used to describe the set of theoretical accounts of how people assign causes to the events around them and the effects that people's causal assessments have. From Acts to Dispositions: Inferring The Causes Of Behavior: -Causal Attribution: Linking an event to a cause, such as inferring that a personality trait was responsible for a behaviour. This is the process that people use to describe their own and other people's behaviors. The Pervasiveness and Importance of Causal Attribution -Systematic research on causal attribution has shown that people's explanations have tremendous consequences in a number of areas, including health and education. Explanatory Style and Attribution -Explanatory Style: A person's habitual way of explaining events, typically assessed along three dimensions: internal/external, stable/unstable and global/specific. (Pessimists say internal, stable and global). -These three things combine to form an overall explanatory style index, which can then be correlated with things like student's GPA's. -Explanatory style at a younger age is a predictor of physical health at a later age. Attributions About Controllability -Studies to reinforce the idea that people's attributional tendencies have a powerful effect on their long- term outcomes, emphasizing whether an attribution is controllable, not whether its consequences are global or specific. Students can be trained to adopt more productive attributional tendencies (such as blaming poor grades on lack of effort rather than lack of intelligence) which encourages them to work harder. Gender and Attribution Style -Boys are more likely to attribute their failures to lack of effort, girls are more likely to attribute it to lack of ability. This is partially due to the way teachers criticize boys VS girls for wrong answers. The Processes of Causal Attribution -Only by knowing the cause of a given event can we grasp the true meaning of what has happened and anticipate what is likely to happen next. -Another import focus of attributional analysis is determining whether an outcome is a product of something within the person (internal/"dispositional") or a reflection of something about the context or circumstances (external/"situational") Attribution and Covariation -Covariation Principle: The idea that behavior should be attributed to potential causes that co-occur with the behavior. In other words, we try to determine what causes (internal or external, symptomatic of the person in question or applicable to nearly anyone) covary with the observation or effect we are trying to explain. -Consensus: What most people would do in a given situation-that is, whether most people would behave the same way or few or no other people would behave that way. -Distinctiveness: What an individual does in different situations-that is, whether the behavior is unique to a particular situation or occurs in all situations. -Consistency: What an individual does in a given situation on different occasions, that is, whether next time under the same circumstances, the person would behave the same or differently. -A situational attribution is called for when consensus, distinctiveness, and consistency are all high. The opposite is a dispositional attribution. Attribution and Imagining Alternative Actors and Outcomes -Sometimes we base our judgments on what we imagine would happen under different situations or with different people. The discounting and augmentation principles -Discounting Principle: The idea that people should assign reduced weight to a particular cause of behavior if other plausible causes might have produced it. -Augmentation Principle: The idea that people should assign greater weight to a particular cause of behavior if other causes are present that normally would produce the opposite outcome. -Difficult to conclude about someone who behaves "in role" but easy if behaving "out of role" The Influence of what Almost Happened -People consider if the outcome would have been the same had the conditions been slightly different. Influenced by knowledge of what has happened in the past and our counterfactual thoughts. -Counterfactual Thoughts: Thoughts of what might have, could have or should have happened "if only" something had been done differently. Emotional Effects of Counterfactual Thinking -Emotional Amplification: A ratcheting up of an emotional reaction to an event that is proportional to how easy it is to imagine the event not happening. (Our emotional reaction to an event can be more intense if it almost did not happen) -Some of the most common determinants in deciding what is considered "almost didn't happen" are time and distance. The Influence of Exceptions versus Routines -Another determinant of how easy it is to imagine an event not happening it resulted from a routine action or a departure from the norm. -For example, switching your answer on a multiple choice test last minute, or fighter pilots switching seats. Errors and Biases in Attribution -Some attributions people make are irrational The Self Serving Attributional Bias -Self-Serving Attributional Bias: The tendency to attribute failure and other bad events to external circumstances, but to attribute success and other good events to oneself. -It is true, though, that most successes are due at least in part to hard work and effort, which can be taken credit for. And most failures are also do at least in part to external reasons. -It can be difficult to determine from the pattern of attributions alone whether someone has made an attribution to protect self-esteem; such a pattern could be the result of a purely rational analysis. The Fundamental Attribution Error -The tendency to attribute people's behavior to elements of their character or personality, even when powerful situati
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