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Attribution Processes

Valerie Manusov


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Attribution s are the cognitive and communicative processes involved in making sense of why someone acted the way he or she did. This →  sense-making usually revolves around attempts to determine the cause (i.e., why) and/or who is responsible for an action. Studied initially as a largely internal, psychological process (e.g., Heider 1958 ), researchers in communication often look to verbal explanations as examples of expressed or communicated attributions (e.g., Burleson 1986 ; Roghaar & Vangelisti 1996 ). Generally, attribution processes are considered an offshoot of people's tendency to want to understand the world around them. This sense-making transpires in our thoughts (cognitive attributions), and we talk it out with others (communicated attributions). In fact, as we talk about why we think someone acted as he or she did, we often change our minds about the attribution we originally held (→  Psychology in Communication Processes ; Cognition ). Early work focused on attributions of what Heider (1958) called causal locus , or the judgment of where a cause came from (i.e., internal or external to the person who engaged in the action). Since then, researchers, most notably Weiner (1995) , have identified a large number of other attributional dimensions, including assessments of a behavior's intentionality, controllability, stability, specificity, and valence. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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