PSYCH1010H BEHAVIOUR IN A SOCIAL CONTEXT CHAPTER THIRTEEN
ATTRIBUTION: PERCEIVING THE CAUSES OF BEHAVIOUR
Attributions: judgments about causes of our own & other people's behaviour and outcomes
o Influence our subsequent behaviour and emotions
Personal versus Situational Attributions
Fritz Heider: pioneer of attribution theory
o Personal (internal) attributions: people's behaviour is caused by their characteristics
o Situational (external) attributions: aspects of the situation cause a behaviour
3 types of information determine attribution we make: consistency, distinctiveness & consensus.
o When 3 are all high = situational attribution
o When consistency is high, other two are low, we make a personal attribution
Fundamental attribution error: Underestimate impact of situation & overestimate role of
personal factors when explaining other people's behaviour
o People make fundamental attribution error on basis of actors' professional roles: Expect
TV and movie stars to have the same personal traits as the characters they play
Applies to how we perceive other people's behaviour rather than our own.
o Example: slow driver ahead of us is a moron, fast driver trying to pass us is a maniac.
When people have time to reflect on their judgments/highly motivated to be careful, the
fundamental attribution error is reduced
Protect self-esteem with self-serving bias: making relatively more personal attributions for
successes & more situational attributions for failures
o Depressed people often display the opposite attributional pattern
Culture and Attribution
Many studies suggest that the tendency to attribute other people's behaviour to personal factors
reflects a Westernized emphasis on individualism
Culture influences attributions for our own behaviour
Cultural background also affects the way we go about making attributions.
The Same underlying psychological principle-link between holistic thinking & beliefs about
causality-accounts for information-seeking differences between cultures & individuals within each
Primacy versus Recency: Are First Impressions More Important?
Primacy effect: tendency to attach more importance to initial information that we learn about a
o Reasons: most alert to information we receive first & initial information may shape how
we perceive subsequent
Primacy effects decreaserecency effects (giving greater weight to most recent information) may
occurwhen we are asked to avoid making snap judgments etc.
Mental Sets and Schemas: Seeing What We Expect to See
Mental set: readiness to perceive the world in a particular way; powerfully shapes how we
interpret a stimulus
o Formed by schemas
Stereotype: generalized belief about a group/category of people, powerful type of schema.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: Creating What We Expect to See
Self-fulfilling prophecy: usually without conscious awareness, when people's wrong
expectations lead them to act toward others in a way that brings about expected behaviours,
thereby confirming the original impression
ATTITUDES AND ATTITUDE CHANGE
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Attitude: positive/negative evaluative reaction toward stimulus (person, action, object, concept)
Do Our Attitudes Influence Our Behaviour?
Attitudes influence behaviour more strongly when counteracting situational factors are weak.
o Theory of planned behaviour: engage in behaviour is strongest with a positive attitude
toward that behaviour, subjective norms support our attitudes, believe that behaviour is
under our control.
Attitudes have greater influence on behaviour when were aware of them & when they are
General attitudes are better at predicting general classes of behaviour, specific attitudes are
better at predicting specific behaviours.
Theory of cognitive dissonance: people strive for consistency in their cognitions.
o Person experiences uncomfortable state of tension & becomes motivated to reduce this
o To dissonance & restore a state of cognitive consistency, will change one of their
cognitions/add new cognitions
Behaviour thats inconsistent with our attitude is called counterattitudinal behaviour, and it
produces dissonance only if we perceive that our actions were freely chosen rather than coerced.
Dissonance is maximized when the behaviour threatens our sense of self-worth/produces
negative consequences that were
Self-perception theory: make inferences about our own attitudes by observing how we behave.
Dissonance theory & self-perception theory appear to be correct but under different
o Both theories agree that our behaviours can influence our attitudes.
Persuasion involves a communicator who delivers a message through a channel to an audience
within a surrounding context
Communicator credibilityhow believable the communicator iskey to effective persuasion.
Credibility has two major components: expertise and trustworthiness
Communicators who are physically attractive, likable & similar to us (interests/goals) also may
persuade us more effectively
Two-sided refutational approach & Moderate degree of discrepancy is more effective
Central route to persuasion: when people think carefully about the message & influenced
because they find the arguments compelling.
Peripheral route to persuasion: when people dont scrutinize the message but are influenced
mostly by other factors, such as a speaker's attractiveness or a message's emotional appeal.
Attitude change from central route tends to have deeper foundation, lasts longer, & predicts future
behaviour more successfully.
Consistency, distinctiveness, and consensus information jointly influence whether we make a
personal or situational attribution for a particular act.
The fundamental attribution error is the tendency to attribute other people's behaviour to personal
factors while underestimating the role of situational factors. The self-serving bias is the
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tendency to attribute one's successes to personal factors and one's failures to situational
Although our impressions of people may change over time, our first impression generally carries
extra weight. Stereotypes and schemas create mental sets that powerfully shape our
Through self-fulfilling prophecies, our initially false expectations shape the way we act toward
someone. In turn, this person responds to our behaviour in a way that confirms our initially
Attitudes are evaluative judgments. They predict behaviour best when situational influences are
weak, when the attitude is strong, and when we consciously think about our attitude.
Our behaviour also influences our attitudes. Counterattitudinal behaviour is most likely to create
cognitive dissonance when the behaviour is freely chosen and has negative implications for
our sense of self-worth or produces foreseeable negative consequences.
To reduce dissonance, we may change our attitude to become more consistent with how we have
behaved. In situations where our attitudes are weak and counterattitudinal behaviour doesn't
threaten our self-worth, we may change our attitudes through self-perception.
Communicator, message, and audience characteristics influence the effectiveness of p