Organizational Psychology (PSY510)
It is one of the basic human instincts to try to explain things around us to himself/herself and other people.
In other words, attributing cause to the events around us. This gives us a greater sense of control. When
explaining behavior, it can affect the standing of people within a group (especially ourselves).
Attributions are judgments about what caused a person's behaviour-either characteristics of the person or
of the situation.
When another person has erred, we will often use internal attribution, saying it is due to internal personality
factors. When we have erred, we will more likely use external attribution, attributing causes to situational
factors rather than blaming ourselves and vice versa. We will attribute our successes internally and the
successes of our rivals to external `luck'.
When a football team wins, supporters say `we won'. But when the team loses, the supporters say `they lost'.
Our attributions are also significantly driven by our emotional and motivational drives. Blaming other
people and avoiding personal recrimination are very real self-serving attributions. We will also make
attributions to defend what we perceive as attacks. We will point to injustice in an unfair world.
We will even tend to blame victims (of us and of others) for their fate as we seek to distance ourselves from
thoughts of suffering the same plight.
We will also tend to ascribe less variability to other people than ourselves, seeing ourselves as more
multifaceted and less predictable than others. This may well because we can see more of what is inside
ourselves (and spend more time doing this).
In practice, we often tend to go through a two-step process, starting with an automatic internal attribution,
followed by a slower consideration of whether an external attribution is more appropriate. As with
Automatic Believing, if we are hurrying or are distracted, we may not get to this second step. This makes
internal attribution more likely than external attribution.
Dispositional and Situational Attribution
Behaviour is considered to be determined by either internal or external factors. These factors also determine
dispositional or situational attribution.
Dispositional attribution: Where "cause" is attributed to internal/personality factors. Inside factors fall
inside your own control. You can choose to behave in a particular way or not. So your behaviour is not
influenced, limited or even completely determined by influences outside you control. Therefore, you feel
responsible. A typical example is your own intelligence. In other words, Dispositional attribution is the
explanation of individual behavior as a result caused by innate characteristics that reside within the
individual, as opposed to outside influences that stem from the environment or culture in which that
individual is placed
Situational attribution: Where "cause" is attributed to external/social factors. Outside factors fall outside
your control. You perceive you have no choice. So your behaviour is influenced, limited or even completely
determined by influences outside you control. Therefore, you feel not responsible. A generic example is
weather. This is situational attribution.
Internal or external attribution is also made with respect to other people (i.e., is another person personally
responsible for a certain event, or is it caused by something beyond his or her control?). We make this sort
of attribution when we decide whether or not to blame a friend for failing to pay back a loan. If we blame it
on her personal qualities, the attribution is internal. If we blame it on a problem she is having, then the
attribution is external.
Locus of Control
A major concept in the study of attribution theory is locus of control: whether one interprets events as
being caused by one's own behavior or by outside circumstances. A person with an internal locus of control,
an "internal," for example, will believe that her performance on a work project is governed by her ability or
by how hard she works. An "external" will attribute success or failure by concluding that the project was
easy or hard, the boss was helpful or unhelpful, or some other rationale. In general, an internal locus of
control is associated with optimism and physical health. People with an internal locus of control also tend to
be more successful at delaying gratification.
Locus of Control is the tendency to place the primary responsibility for one's success or failure either within
oneself (internally) or on outside forces (externally).
Organizational Psychology (PSY510)
Internal locus people believe that they control their own fate:
Easier to motivate
Better to handle complex info and problem solving
More achievement orientated
More difficult to lead
External locus people believe they are pawns; luck, chance
Hard to motivate
Blame others for poor performance
Easier to lead
Three factors influence whether the behavior of others is attributed to internal or external causes:
consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness.
Consensus refers to whether other people exhibit similar behaviour; whether people tend to respond to
similar situations in the same way. A person who has observed others handle similar situations in the same
way will likely make an external attribution.
Consistency refers to whether the behavior occurs repeatedly. whether the person being observed has a
history of behaving in the same way. People generally make internal attributions about consistent behavior.
Distinctiveness is concerned with whether the behavior occurs in other, similar, situations; whether the
behaviour is unusual for that person. If the behaviour is distinctive, the perceiver probably will make an
Fundamental Attribution Error
In attribution theory, the fundamental attribution error (also known as correspondence bias or over
attribution effect) is the tendency for people to over-emphasize dispositional, or personality-based,
explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing situational explanations. When we
are trying to understand and explain what happens in social settings, we tend to view behavior as a
particularly significant factor. We then tend to explain behavior in terms of internal disposition, such as
personality traits, abilities, motives, etc. as opposed to external situational factors.
This can be due to our focus on the person more than their situation, about which we may know very little.
We also know little about how they are interpreting the situation.
Western culture exacerbates this error, as we emphasize individual freedom and autonomy and are
socialized to prefer dispositional factors to situational ones.
When we are playing the role of observer, which is largely when we look at others, we make this
fundamental attribution error. When we are thinking about ourselves, however, we will tend to make
In short, fundamental attribution error occurs when situational factors are ignored in judging others. In
other words, it is the tendency to underestimate the influence of external factors on another's behaviour and
to overestimate the influence of internal factors.
Self serving bias
It is the tendency to overestimate the contribution of internal factors to one's successes and the
contribution of external factors to one's failures. In other words, it is to present oneself favourably.
A self-serving bias occurs when people are more likely to claim responsibility for successes than failures. It
may also manifest itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to
For instance, a student who gets a good grade on an exam might say, "I got an A because I am intelligent
and I studied hard!" while a student who does poorly on an exam might say, "The teacher gave me an F
because he does not like me!" When someone seeks out external causes for their poor performance, it may
be labeled self-handicapping. Self-serving bias may simply be a form of wishful thinking.
· Miller, R., Brickman, P., & Bolen, D. (1975). Attribution versus persuasion as a means of modifying
behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 430-441.
Organizational Psychology (PSY510)
Attribution theory is a social psychology theory.
· Attribution Theory by Heider: http://www.12manage.com/methods_heider_attribution_theory.html
· Explnation of Attribution theory:
· Gleitman, H., Fridlund, A., & Reisberg D. (1999). Psychology webBOOK: Psychology Fifth Edition /
Basic Psychology Fifth Edition. W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. Accessed online 18 April 2006
· Attribution theory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attribution_theory
· Fundamental attribution error: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-serving_bias
· Self-serving bias: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_error
· Gleitman, H., Fridlund, A., & Reisberg D. (1999). Psychology webBOOK: Psychology Fifth
Edition / Basic Psychology Fifth Edition. W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. Accessed online 18
April 2006 http://www.wwnorton.com/college/psych/gman5/glossary/F.htm
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