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Updated: Monday, April 12, 1999 10:50:18 AM

Schemas & Just world Belief Classical Conditioning Operant Conditioning
Sensory Memory Short Term Memory Long Term Memory
Confidence and Memory Heuristics Attribution
Norms Social Influence & Obedience All Notes in one view

Section 2: Attribution

Social psychology – is the scientific study of individual behavior as a function of social stimuli.

Some areas of interest are
attitudes and attitude change, person perception, the self interpersonal attraction, altruism, aggression and social influence.
Attribution theory

Attributions are the reasons we give for our own or others’ behavior.
Example: You see an athlete advertise a camera on TV.
Why are they using the camera?


Festinger (1959)

One of his research projects involved hiring people to do a very boring task.  Research participants were paid either $1 or $20.  All were given the same boring task.  Later all subjects were asked how they liked doing the task.

Which group of subjects liked the task more? The $20 group or the $1 group?

Surprisingly the subjects who were paid the $1 liked the task more.  This result can be explained by attribution theory.  Participants who were paid $20 found it easy to think of a reason why they did the task  - they were paid good money to do it. On the other hand, participants given only $1 thought that they must have liked the task since the money was so low. Otherwise why else would they have done it?

There are 2 kinds of attributions:

Dispositional: We judge that a person does something because of who he or she is (the athlete likes the camera.)

Situational: A person does something because of his or her situation (she wants the money).

The Fundamental Attribution Error

We overestimate the power of the person and underestimate the power of the situation.
The availability heuristic may explain why this error occurs.

We tend to make dispositional attributions for others and situational attributions for ourselves.

IF you did bad on a test…

You are likely to emphasize the situation. For example, the test was a poor test, or that you did not get enough sleep the night before the test.

If someone else did bad on a test

You are likely to blame the disposition of the person. For example, they aren't really all that smart.

The more distant we are from the person the more likely we are to make dispositional attributions.  And the opposite is true, the closer we are to the person the more likely we are to understand the situation.
Biases – Political

Liberals - (situational attributions)
    believe that there are possible extenuating circumstances

Conservatives - (Dispositional attribution)
    believe that the result is because on the personality of the individual.

By altering actors and observers perspectives through videotape replays, mirrors, or other methods, one can correspondingly alter actors’ and observer’s causal assessments."
        Human inference
        Nisbett & Ross 1980

See the section concluding Heuristics, about Rodney King, on an example of changing attribution by changing availability.





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