Attribution Theory

Discuss the types of attribution someone makes when they appraise a person’s behaviour. How may bias occur in their reasoning particularly if they have a very different background to the person they observe? Attribution theory focuses on ways in which we gather and process information in order to come up with judgements and explanations for people’s behaviours and personalities or as explained by Fiske & Taylor (1991) “how the social perceiver uses information to arrive at casual explanations for events.
It examines what information is gathered and how it’s combined to form casual judgements”. There have been many studies aimed at explaining the main errors people make when making inferences about people’s behaviour and whether culture has an effect on how we make attributions. There are two types of attributions, internal attributions, also known as dispositional attributions, are when we attribute behaviour to person’s disposition (mental state, personality, emotions, characteristics, etc. ).
External attributions (also known as situational attributions) can be explained as attributing behaviour to the situation or the environment in which the behaviour took place. Correspondent inference (Jones & Davis, 1965) can be explained as when the observer infers that the actor’s behaviour corresponds with their motives (an internal attribution). A correspondence bias is when the observer over-attributes the cause of behaviour to dispositional factors at the expense of situational antecedents.

This can also be explained as the fundamental attribution error (Lee Ross, 1977). Another believed to be error in attribution is suppressing dispositional inferences during social judgement, which leads to the dispositional rebound (Geeraert & Yzerbyt, 2007), meaning relying on dispositional inferences in subsequent judgements. It is believed that a judgement begins with a dispositional bias and situational information is to correct the initial judgement (Quattrone, 1992), this is called situational correction.
Geeraert & Yzerbyt state that the observer must suppress dispositional judgements during the correctional stage and deal with the dispositional rebound in subsequent stages. Furthermore, a cause of the FAE (fundamental attribution error) could potentially be the fact that the observer may not see much to gain in making the effort to analyse the situational causes of a certain behaviour and too cognitively demanding (Andrews, 2001).
However, due to the fact that they have greater incentives to predict and influence behaviour, people who tend to depend on others are less likely to make erroneous attributions, which explains why people from more interdependent cultures (such as East Asians) tend to avoid the FAE (Choi et al, 1999) in contrast with people from more independent cultures (such as Europeans or Americans).
To further elaborate on this point, numerous psychologists believe that culture may have a determining effect on whether the observer is prone to excessively relying on dispositional judgements. This is shown in Choi & Nisbett’s 1998 study, which was in line with Snyder & Jones’ 1974 study, where a group of Korean and American participants were given the task of writing an essay with a designated position.
They were then asked to judge a forced writer (a writer which wrote a piece as a forced task, whether or not what they were writing reflected their own beliefs). In contrast with the previous study, the Americans’ judgements were not affected, however, the Koreans no longer displayed correspondence bias when the situational forces were made salient. Kitayama and Miyamoto carries out a similar study, including Japanese and American students and as predicted, the Americans displayed correspondence bias, while the Japanese students did not.
Moreover, with the aim of discovering whether the dispositional rebound occurs amongst people of East Asian background and using the dispositional rebound as a tool to study the process of attribution, a study was carried out which participants consisting of 105 students from Hogeschool Gent, Belgium and 128 students from Kasestart University in Bangkok, Thailand, were given the task of judging a free or forced writer in the attitude attribution paradigm. The diagnosticity of the essays were manipulated in order to have participants also judge the essays based on whether they were diagnostic or not.
Thai students were more sensitive to the manipulation of the diagnosticity of the essays, whilst the Belgian participants showed no sensitivity at all. Both ethnic groups displayed symptoms of the dispositional rebound when judging a diagnostic forced essay, however, Belgian participants were the only ones to display the dispositional rebound when judging a non-diagnostic essay. Subsequently, participants were asked to judge a series of pictorially represented behaviours. Both Belgian and Thai participants displayed the dispositional rebound when the situational information was hidden.
However, Thai participants no longer displayed the dispositional rebound when the situational information was made salient (also discovered by Choir & Nisbett in their 1998 study and Miyanoto & Kitayama in their 2002 study). A further explanation of the dispositional rebound could be that it is the ironic consequence of suppression and correction of an initial dispositional judgment as a result of cognitive fatigue due to the fact that the judgment of a constrained target demands a larger amount of cognitive effort which due to the reduction of cognitive resources, leaves some observers to rely on less demanding abstract language.
Furthermore, several other studies which have directly focused on the universality of the correspondence bias (Choi & Nisbett, 1998; Kashima, Siegal, Tanaka, & Kashima, 1992; Krull et al. , 1999; Van Boven, Kamada, & Gilovich, 1999) have shown that people from interdependent cultures aren’t immune to erroneous attributions .
In these studies, both East Asians and Americans were given the task of judging a constrained target in the context of the attitude attribution paradigm (this requires participants to read an essay which either favours or opposes a particular issue under the conditions that participants are told whether or not the writer had a choice in selecting the viewpoint which the essay reflects), the perceiver induced constraint paradigm (this requires participants to ask a target to read out a pre-written attitudinal statement, then comply observe the target and then try to figure out the target’s true attitude) and the quiz paradigm.
The results showed that regardless of culture, all participants displayed correspondence bias. These findings may suggest that culture may not determine whether an observer is prone to erroneous attributions. In conclusion, it seems that the most erroneous method in our ways of making social judgments is our tendency to rely excessively on dispositional information when doing so and ironically suppressing our dispositional inferences which instinct seems to enforce the occurrence of, seems to cause a rebound effect in subsequent social judgments.
But, it also seems that being raised in a society where it is the norm to be dependent on one another, tends to make one naturally more sensitive to informational information when it is there to be sensed and therefore more able to make accurate inferences about behaviour and mental states.

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