Attribution Definition, Meaning, Types, Distortions


Attribution Synonym – Ascription, Authorship, Credit, Give, Authorial, Assignment, and Imputation.

Attribution Meaning

Attribution is the method through which perception exercises its impact on behaviour. This process evaluates perceived causes for any event. People tend to give an account of their observations and events that occur in their lives. Attribution is a psychological process through which people explain the cause of their own or someone else’s behaviour.

Attribution Definition

According to Kelly, “Attribution is defined as an explanation for an event or action causes or both in terms of reason or

According to Jones and Davis, “An attribution is defined as an inference one makes as to why a person behaves (or responds) to a stimulus or situation in a particular way”.

Types of Attribution

Based on social perception, there are two types of attributions that people generally make.

1) External (Situational) Attribution

This states that the external situations or events faced by the person determine his behaviour. In other words, it means blaming the environment for certain behaviour. In external attribution, an individual’s behaviour is fully influenced by factors that are out of his control. 

So, he does not blame himself for different happenings. A few examples of situational factors are good weather, good friends, family support, and supportive teachers.

Related Article:- Process of Perception

2) Internal (Dispositional) Attribution

Certain personality traits are unique in a person and are responsible for his behaviour. In this case, the cause of behaviour exists within the target and he has full control over it. 

An individual’s behaviour is not influenced by any external force that is outside his control. Hence, such a person feels accountable for his behaviour. 

Examples of dispositional factors can be motivationemotional intelligence, and effort put in by an individual.

Attribution Theory of Perception

The theory of attribution was founded by Heider. This theory tries to analyze how people understand their surrounding world, and what they feel about others, and themselves. 

It is a process by which an individual assigns causes to the behaviour he conceives. People are interested not only in observing behaviour in organizations but also in determining its causes. Their evaluations of and reactions to others’ behaviour may be heavily influenced by their perception that others are responsible for their behaviour.

Attributions theory has extended our understanding of how perception affects behaviour in organizations. It suggests that we observe behaviour and then attribute causes to it i.e., it attempts to explain why people behave the way they do. The process of attribution is based on perceptions of reality, and these perceptions may vary widely among individuals.

According to Heider, people need to understand that events are either a result of the target’s temperament or traits of his surroundings. Attribution theory studies how people casually conclude decisions based on performance. It also states that when we observe a person’s behaviour we immediately analyze if the cause of that behaviour is internal or external. 

Factors of Attribution

The following are the factors affecting this determination:

1) Distinctiveness

Distinctiveness is the extent to which behaviour is unique to a particular setting or is much like what occurs in many other settings. 

For example, if a student fails in mathematics, then the student can assess distinctiveness by considering whether his or her grades are low only in maths or if they are low in all the subjects. These factors tell us whether the cause of a person’s behaviour is internal or external.

It refers to whether an individual displays different behaviour in different situations. Is the employee who is late, also the source of complaints by co-workers for being a “goof-off”? We want to know whether his behaviour is unusual. If it is, the observer is likely to give the behaviour an external attribution. If this action is not unusual, it will probably be judged as internal.

2) Consensus

Consensus is the extent to which other people act in the same way when facing a similar situation. 

For example, if all the students in the class failed in mathematics, then this is consensus. On the other hand, if only a few students fail in mathematics then this act denotes low consensus. 

If everyone who is forced into an identical situation responds in the same way, we can say that behaviour shows consensus. The late employee’s behaviour should meet these criteria if all employees who took the same route to work were late. If consensus is high, external attribution is given to the employee’s sluggishness, whereas if other employees with the same route made it to work on time, your conclusion as to causality would be internal.

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3) Consistency

Consistency is the assessment of behaviour in similar situations in the past. 

For example,

 if a student always fails in mathematics, this is consistent behaviour. But if he fails only on rare occasions like in a particular class or school, then it is a low consistent behaviour.

Coming in 10 minutes late for work is not perceived in the same way for the employee for whom it is an unusual case, as it is for the employee for whom it is part of a routine pattern. The more consistent the observer is prone to attribute it to internal causes.

To start the process, we observe behaviours, either our own or someone else’s. We then evaluate that behaviour in terms of its degrees of consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness. Consensus is the extent to which other people in the same situation behave uniformly at different times. 

Distinctiveness is the limit to which the same individual behaves in the same way in different situations. We form impressions of attributions as to the causes of behaviour based on various combinations of consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness. We may believe the behaviour is caused internally or externally.

For example, 

manager observes one of his subordinates being rowdy, disrupting others’ work and generally making a nuisance of himself. If the manager can understand the causes of this behaviour, he may be able to change it. If the employee is the only one engaging in disruptive behaviour (Low consensus) if he behaves like this several times each week, and if the manager has seen him behave like this in other settings, a logical conclusion would be that internal factors are causing his behaviour.

The attribution model has been depicted which shows that the attribution process involves observing behaviours and then attributing causes to them. Observed behaviour is interpreted in terms of its consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness. 

The interpretations result in behaviour being attributed to either internal or external causes. Internally caused behaviour is one that is believed to be under the control of the individual. But externally caused behaviour is seen as resulting from external factors, i.e., the person is seen as having been forced into the behaviour by this situation.


Distortions in Attribution

Attribution errors influence our point of view about who or what was responsible for an action or event. Some attribution errors are as follows: 

1) Fundamental Attribution Error

This is also called correspondence bias or over-attribution effect. It shows that people tend to overemphasize dispositional or personality-based clarifications and underemphasize situation-based clarifications. In simple words, people unjustly tend to believe that their actions are a result of what they are, rather than the impact of circumstances and surroundings on them.

2) Self-Serving Attribution Bias

People tend to give credit to internal attributions for their success and blame external attributions for their failure. 

For example, if a student performs well in his examination he believes that it is due to his intelligence and hard work, but if fails then he blames the teacher for the failure.

Unlike other attributional biases like actor-observer bias, self-serving attributional bias has a motivational basis. It helps a person to view himself in a positive light and increases his self-respect. 

Attributing success to internal factors increases confidence and attributing failure to external factors saves one from being disheartened after performing poorly. 

For example, athletes while discussing their victories usually acknowledge themselves for the efforts they had put in but may attribute the losses to other reasons like bad weather, inefficient management, or the extra effort put in by the opposition.

3) Actor-Observer Bias

Actor-observer bias happens when people attribute their actions to external causes and others’ actions to internal causes. It means people make different attributions as per their position (i.e., either actor or observer) in a current situation. This business generally occurs in conditions where results are negative. 

For example, if something negative happens to a person, he blames it on the situation. But if negative happens with others, then he blames that particular person for his wrong choice or wrong decision.

4) False Consensus Effect

It is a type of biasness in which people assume that their own opinions,  beliefs, attitudes, etc., are common and correct with the intention that others must also believe in the same manner. 

For example, if a person believes that it is important to save the environment, he also believes that all people should think the same.

5) Egocentric Bias

This type of attributional bias occurs when individuals claim that they are more responsible for the outcome of a  group task than any other person. 

These individuals not only take responsibility for the positive result (self-serving bias) but also take responsibility for any negative result produced by the group.

6) Group Serving Bias

This kind of attributional error is similar to self-serving attributional bias. The only difference is that this occurs among different groups rather than between individuals. 

When the group succeeds, its success is attributed to its capabilities. Whereas, the failure of the group is attributed to situational factors. 

For example, if the business succeeds, credit is given to employees’ efforts, effective advertising, etc. But if it fails, it is due to the competitor’s tactics.

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