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attribution theories


Subject Psychology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631202899.1996.x


The study of how people explain human behavior — their causal attributions or commonsense explanations — is the focus of a group of approaches termed “attribution theory.” Research on this topic exploded during the 1970s and 1980s, but the major conceptual advances were made by four main theories, three of which were developed quite early. The four theories are summarized below, together with critical issues pertaining to each, followed by an overview of the contemporary field of research on causal attributions ( see Hewstone, 1989 ; Weary, Stanley & Harvey, 1989 ; see also accounts ). Fritz Heider's (1958) “naive psychology” attempted to formulate the processes by which an untrained observer, or naive psychologist , makes sense of the physical and social world. It is impossible to summarize his “theory,” because his writings are rich yet arcane; they have nonetheless laid the foundations for all the subsequent attribution theories. As Ross and Fletcher (1985) argued, there are four central ideas in Heider's naive psychology. First, Heider proposed that invariant dispositional properties were needed to explain the behavior of others and render the perceiver's world stable, predictable, and controllable. Second, Heider introduced a focal distinction between personal and situational causes, and he referred to the attributional bias where-by perceivers tend to underemphasize ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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