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Chapter 6

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PSYC 473
Mark Baldwin

Social Cognition and the Self Chapter 6: Attribution Introduction: Hate Crimes and Intent • In the American legal system, it is believed that the punishment should suit the crime and should reflect the inferred intentions of the criminal. o ex) “Hate Crimes” are punished more severely than non-hate crimes. • Intentions can make a large difference in how we interpret the meaning of an act, altering how we assign blame and how severely we punish. • The intent of another person is not an observable, measurable entity – it is a psychological state that needs to be inferred. o Inferences can be made with varying degrees of confidence, depending on the information available. o Greater confidence results in better decision-making. • In our day-to-day lives, we observe others’ actions and the consequences of these actions. We then attempt to infer what caused these events in order to determine the best course of action to take ourselves. o We react to both consequences and intentions. o Did the person act intentionally? If so, what were the person’s specific intentions? Why did the person act that way?  Attribution Theory tries to address these questions. • We make attributions about the reasons for events we observe. o Attribution: The end result of a process of classifying and explaining observed behavior in order to arrive at a decision regarding the reason or cause for the behavior. Heider’s Common-Sense Psychology  Fritz Heider was perhaps the most influential figure in the field of person perception and attribution theory. o His book, The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations, served as a starting point for social-psychological research. o His approach assumes that to understand the manner in which we think about people in our social world, we should analyze the language we use to talk about people.  Through examining the words we use to describe why people act as they do, we can get a sense of the types of reasons and motives that we use to categorize and explain others. o His approach is associated with an examination of “surface matters” (the events that occur in everyday life on a conscious level). o He believed in a “naïve psychology” which gives us the principles we use to build up our picture of the social environment and which guides our reactions.  The starting point for Heider’s common-sense psychology (his analysis of the types of causes people ascribe to the actions of others) was to ask what potential causes exist. o Heider discussed two global forces to account for why people act as they do: those emanating from the person (stable character, disposition, or temporary state) and those emanating from the situation. o Heider used the term person to refer to personal causality, or intentionality, and the term situation to refer to impersonal causality, or unintentional events.  Person as Cause o The force emanating from the person that gives rise to behavior is called the effective force of the person. o The disposition of the person is assumed to be especially powerful in determining how 1 perceivers ascribe the cause for why a behavior was performed.  ex) When shown a film of geographic shapes in motion, participants tended to display anthropomorphism and attribute the behavior to disposition. o There is a tendency to attribute an observed behavior to person-based causes.  1) Behavior engulfs the field, drawing attention to the person and becoming more salient than the context in which it appears.  2) The most complete explanations provide a stable, clear and concrete cause. o Social psychology has perhaps overemphasized the importance of traits as a form of intentionality post-Heider.  Situation as Cause o The extent to which social pressure causes behavior is called the effective force of the environment. o Attributing a behavior to the situation is easy to do when the situational force that pressures the person to act is strong and clear (ex: lying during a hostage crisis).  Attribution and Language: The Words “Try” and “Can” o The words “try” and “can” are commonly used in describing behavior because they reflect two important underlying dimensions that capture the relationship between the behavior of others and their disposition – effort and ability. o Effort is related to one’s intentions (what one is trying to accomplish).  Trying is determined by internal, motivational factors. It is a force of the person. o Ability is related to what one is capable of doing.  What one can do (capability of accomplishing something) is dependent on both the personal and situational force.  One may have lots of personal ability, but if prevented by forces in the environment from acting on that ability (ex: cognitive load) one will not be able to act.  May presupposes that one has the ability to perform an act and asks the related question of whether there is any external pressure (ex: social sanctions) that blocks the performance of what one can do.  Dimensions of Attribution o Behavior can be attributed to a cause that is located either inside the person (person attribution, internal locus) or outside the person (situation attribution, external locus). o Behavior may be attributed either to stable or to unstable forces.  Can involves both the person’s ability (stable, unchanging) and the forces from the environment (can be stable or unstable).  The possible causes of behavior:  Unintended Behavior Attributed to the Person (as Opposed to the Situation) o Unintended actions can also be caused by the person.  ex) breaking an opponent’s thumb while blocking a shot during a game o The term situational attribution has been mistakenly thought to mean that external Internal Locus of External Locus of Cause Cause (person attribution) (situation attribution) Stable Ability Task Difficulty Unstabl Effort Luck e 2 forces led to the behavior.  Researchers have neglected the fact that the causes for some unintended acts are not in the situation, but within the person.  Researchers have assumed that the perceiver’s primary goal in person perception is to determine whether the cause for behavior is internal or external; they have ignored important questions of whether cause is intended or unintended, and whether the reason for an event is personal or impersonal. o According to Malle (1999), reason explanations are used for describing intended actions, and causal explanations are used for describing unintended actions.  The type of explanation people receive has been shown to alter their descriptions of intentionality. The Jones and Davis Theory of Correspondent Inference • Jones and Davis introduced the first formal model of attribution processes. o Correspondent Inference: an inference or dispositional attribution asserting that the behavior of another person corresponds with stable personality traits of that person. • The model examines the specific rules perceivers follow when engaging in an effortful and systematic analysis of the behaviour of others (attempting to make inferences about the traits, personality and disposition of the observed person). o What factors cause a perceiver to infer that an actor’s behavior corresponds with some underlying disposition? o The Jones and Davis model focuses almost exclusively on trait inference as a reason explanation. o Jones and Davis assumed that the goal of perceivers is to attain a ‘sufficient reason’ for others’ behavior.  Multiple Effects o The Jones and Davis model is based on a perceiver’s analysis not only of the observed behavior, but of the consequences (effects) that arise following the behavior as well. o Perceivers must discern what effects were intended versus unintended, and what intended effects carry causal weight. o From an analysis of multiple effects, perceivers can make better inferences about the internal state of the actors.  Three Ingredients for Making Correspondent Inferences from an Analysis of Effects o In order for a perceiver to judge intentionality (make inferences about intent) by looking at the consequences, these three ingredients must be present:  1) The actor must have knowledge of the consequences of the action.  2) The actor must have the desire or motivation to bring about the known consequences of the action.  3) The actor must have the capability to bring about the desired consequences.  Factors that Promote Correspondent Inference o How Desirable the Consequences Are  The desirability of an effect is the measure of how much the actor would derive pleasure or gain from the effect coming to pass.  The desirability of the consequences of an action is inversely related to the probability that the perceiver will form a correspondent inference.  Attribute-effect linkages based on universally desired effects are not informative concerning the unique characteristics of the actor – they simply tell the perceiver that the actor likes and wants what most people like and want. o Noncommon Effects  To understand the real reason behind a particular action, perceivers analyze the effects for both the chosen course of action and the non-chosen course of action. 3  When the consequences of one choice of action overlap with the consequences of another, these shared consequences are “common effects”. • When consequences do not coincide they are “noncommon effects”.  Noncommon effects can be particularly useful in attempting to understand why a person acted in one way versus anther. • However, too many noncommon effects reduce the distinctiveness of any given effect and make attribution less clear-cut. • As the number of noncommon effects increases, the likelihood of correspondent inference decreases.  A few distinct (noncommon effects) unique to one course of action and several overlapping (common) effects with other courses of action provide the clearest case for correspondent inference. o Situational Constraint  Correspondent inference declines as the action to be accounted for appears to be constrained by the setting in which it occurred. • ex) a senator voting for an issue along party lines  Situational constraint is not enough to rule out a disposition, but it should make perceivers less likely to infer a disposition or have less confidence in their correspondent inferences. o How Normative (vs Unique) the Behavior Is  If behavior is unexpected (different from how the average person would act in the same situation) then a dispositional attribution is likely.  However, if it is unexpected because it violates what that particular person would normally do (based on a stereotype or past experiences), then unexpected behavior leads to a situational attribution. o The Hedonic Relevance of the A
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