CAUSAL ATTRIBUTION IN SPORT:Fritz Heiderís Contribution, Other Considerations

<< GOAL ORIENTATION:Goal Involvement, Motivational Climate
Sport Psychology (PSY407)
Lesson 05
Attribution Theory
The key element in attribution theory is perception. When athletes are asked," to what do you attribute
your great success?" they are being asked for their perceptions. The fact that their perceptions of why
they are successful may be completely erroneous is beside the point. The manner in which athletes
answer questions like these reveals their perceptual beliefs.
Attribution theory is a cognitive approach to motivation. It assumes that people, understand, and
predict events based upon their cognitive perception. According to attribution theory, the intent of
every human being is to explain his own actions in terms of their perceived causes. Fritz Heider (1944,
1958) described his theory as one of common sense, or "naive psychology".
This is a complex theory in which perceived attributions are viewed as greatly influencing a person's
actions, feelings, confidence, and motivation. How and athlete feels about herself is directly related to
the athlete's perception of cause and effect. The attributions that athletes select reveal their motivational
structures. Furthermore, helping athletes to change their perceptions can have a significant effect on
their motivation to achieve. For this reason, motivation and attribution theory are very closely related.
For example, some young people feel they fail because they lack natural ability. Since natural ability is
relatively permanent, it is hard for those children to see that things will ever change for the better.
However, if the young athletes can be encouraged to consider bad luck or lack of effort as a cause for
their failure, they need not feel that things cannot change always try harder.
The Attributional Model
The basic attribution model was proposed by Heider (1944, 1958). However, several significant
contributions by Weiner (1972, 1979, and 1985) have made it much more useful. Most recently,
contributions by Russell (1982) and by McAuley, Duncan, and Russell (1992) have improved our ability
to measure attribution.
Fritz Heider's Contribution
The basis of Heider's model was the notion that people strive for prediction and understanding of daily
events in order to give their lives stability and predictability. Outcomes are attributed internally to the
person (personal force) or externally to the environment (environmental force). Effective personal
force is composed of the attributional factors ability and effort, while effective environmental force is
composed of the attributional factors task difficulty and luck.
According to Heider, an interaction occurs between the personal force of ability and the environmental
force of task difficulty that yields a separate dimension referred to as can (or cannot). If a task is
difficult and yet is accomplished, it must be due to great ability. However, depending on the difficulty
of the task and the ability of the subject, several other attributions can give rise to the can or cannot
The highly unstable factor of luck also enters into many attribution situations. Luck is an environmental
factor that can favorably or unfavorably change an outcome in an unsystematic way. All these factors
(trying, ability, task difficulty, and luck) combine to result in a behavioral outcome, to which an
Sport Psychology (PSY407)
individual attributes a cause. Heider reasoned that the personal and the environmental components of causation
are additive. Thus the following formula represents his reasoning:
Behavioral outcome = personal force + environmental force
Bernard Weiner's Contributions
Using Heider's basic formulation, Weiner (1972) made several significant contributions to the attribution model
that made it easier to understand and apply in achievement situations. Weiner took Heider's four main factors
and restructured them into two main causal dimensions. Theses two dimensions he labeled stability and locus
of control.
Weiner then incorporated Heider's four main factors into his two-dimensional classification scheme for causal
attribution. Ability was classified as being internal and stable, effort as internal and unstable, task difficulty as
external and stable, luck as external and unstable. In his later writing's Weiner (1979, 1985) clarified that a third
dimension named controllability must be included in the attribution model.
The inclusion of this third dimension created a few conceptual problems that had to be addressed. The first
problem was how to differentiate between the dimension of locus of control and the new dimension of
controllability. He solved this problem by renaming the locus of control dimension locus and clarifying the
distinction between the two dimensions. He explained that locus of causality has to do with whether an
outcome was perceived by the individual to be controllable or uncontrollable.
Dan Russell's And Ed Mcauleys's Contributions
To deal with attribution distortion and misclassification, Russell (1982) developed the Casual Dimension Scale
(CDS). In using the CDS, athletes are asked to indicate their perceived cause for an outcome, and then to rate
the cause relative to nine questions. The scale is composed of three questions for each of the dimensions of
locus, stability, and controllability. Since its development in 1982, the Casual Dimension Scale has been used
extensively by researchers.
An article by McAuley, Duncan, and Russell (19920) documents the development of the Casual Dimension
Scale2 (CDS2), a revision of the original version of the scale. The revised version differs from the original in
that it comprises four rather than three casual dimension scales. The four dimensions of the CDS2 are locus of
control, stability, personal control, and external control. The original CDS scale failed to distinguish between
causes that were controlled by the individual and those controlled by other people. Attributions were simply
controllable of uncontrollable, with no clear indication of who was controlling the cause.CDS2 measures four
specific dimensions of causality.
Other Considerations
A number of conceptual problems persist. For instance, researchers and practitioners may fail to recognize that
the kinds of attributions people make are based on a socialization process that may vary across cultures.
Socialization plays an important part in the emphasis that we place on attributions. Attributions depend on what
we learn to value. Differences in Socializations will undoubtedly affect the kinds of attributions made.
In addition to social-cultural differences, we also have evidence that young track and field athletes' attributions
do not differ as a function of gender, but do differ as a function of race/ethnicity.
A second problem that has often plagued attribution research is that the experimenter can bias a subject's
perception of outcome. In many sports related attribution studies, subjects do not perceive themselves to be
succeeding or failing until the researcher biases their perceptions b asking, "to what do you attribute your
success(or failure). Sometimes success and failure are perceived differently by researchers and athlete. For
Sport Psychology (PSY407)
example, let's say I play tennis with one of the world's best players. I don't expect to win but if I can
win one or two games, I will consider myself a success.
Cox, H. Richard. (2002). Sport Psychology: Concepts and Applications. (Fifth Edition). New York:
McGraw-Hill Companies
Lavallec. D., Kremer, J., Moran, A., & Williams. M. (2004) Sports Psychology: Contemporary Themes.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan Publishers
Table of Contents:
  1. SPORT PSYCHOLOGY DEFINED:Issue of Certification, The Research Sport Psychologist
  2. SELF-CONFIDENCE AND SPORT PSYCHOLOGY:Successful Performance, Verbal persuasion
  3. SELECTING SELF-TALK STATEMENTS:Skill accusation, Controlling effort
  4. GOAL ORIENTATION:Goal Involvement, Motivational Climate
  5. CAUSAL ATTRIBUTION IN SPORT:Fritz Heiderís Contribution, Other Considerations
  7. MOTIVATION IN SPORT:Social Factors, Success and Failure, Coachesí Behavior
  9. PRINCIPLES OF EFFECTIVE GOAL SETTING:Clearly identify time constraints
  10. A TEAM APPROACH TO SETTING GOALS:The Planning Phase, The Meeting Phase
  11. YOUTH SPORT:Distress and anxiety, Coach-Parent Relationships
  12. ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN SPORT:Information Processing, Memory Systems
  13. ATTENTION AND CONCENTRATION IN SPORT:Measuring Attentional Focus
  14. PERSONALITY AND THE ATHLETE:Personality Defined, Psychodynamic Theory
  15. THE MEASUREMENT OF PERSONALITY:Projective Procedures, Structured Questionnaire
  16. PERSONALITY AND THE ATHLETE:Athletic Motivation Inventory, Personality Sport Type
  21. COPING STRATEGIES IN SPORT:Measurement of Coping Skill
  22. RELAXATION STRATEGIES FOR SPORT:Progressive Relaxation, Autogenic Training
  23. AROUSAL ENERGIZING STRATEGIES:Team Energizing Strategies, Fan Support
  24. AROUSAL ENERGIZING STRATEGIES:Precompetition Workout, Individual Goal Setting
  25. IMAGERY:Skill Level of the Athletes, Time Factors and Mental Practice
  26. IMAGERY:Symbolic Learning Theory, Imagery Perspective. Sensory Mode
  27. IMAGERY:Paivioís Two-Dimensional Model, Developing Imagery Skills
  28. THE ROLE OF HYPNOSIS IN SPORT:Defining Hypnosis, Social-Cognitive Theory
  29. THE ROLE OF HYPNOSIS IN SPORT:Achieving the Hypnotic Trance, Hypnotic Phase
  30. PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS TRAINING:Psychological Skills Training Program
  31. PSYCHOLOGICAL SKILLS TRAINING:Performance profiling, Performance routines
  32. ETHICS IN SPORT PSYCHOLOGY:Competence, Integrity, Social Responsibility
  33. AGGRESSION AND VIOLENCE IN SPORT:Defining Aggression, Catharsis hypothesis
  34. AGGRESSION AND VIOLENCE IN SPORT:The Catharsis Effect, Fan Violence
  35. AUDIENCE AND CROWD EFFECTS IN SPORTS:Social Facilitation, Crowd Hostility
  36. TEAM COHESION IN SPORT:Measurement of Team Cohesion
  37. TEAM COHESION IN SPORT:Predicting Future Participation, Team Building
  38. LEADERSHIP IN SPORT:Fiedlerís Contingency Theory, Coach-Athlete Compatibility
  39. EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY:Special Populations, Clinical Patients
  40. EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY:Social Interaction Hypothesis, Amine Hypothesis
  41. EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY:The Theory of Planned Behavior, Social Cognitive Theory
  42. EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY:Exercise Addiction, Bulimia Nervosa, Muscle Dysmorphia
  43. BURNOUT IN ATHLETES:Overtraining and Overreaching, Recommended Intervention
  44. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ATHLETIC INJURIES:Personality Factors, Coping Resources
  45. DRUG ABUSE IN SPORT AND EXERCISE:Stimulants, Depressants