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How is attribution theory relevant to the way in which people perceive other individuals and groups?

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How is attribution theory relevant to the way in which people perceive other individuals and groups? The human race's need to explain the actions of ourselves and others is known as attribution. Attributing cause to the events around us and to our own behaviour gives us a greater sense of control over our environment and helps maintain our self esteem. Attribution theory developed within social psychology as a means of dealing with questions of social perception. It is the formal psychological account of the attribution process and is concerned with the underlying ideas of why things happen. It explores the explanations we give in answering questions about ourselves and others that usually begin with 'Why?' Fritz Heider (1958) saw the individual as a 'na�ve scientist' who linked observational behaviour to unobservable causes. He proposed that we form ideas and theories about our social world and that we look for causes which we can attribute to actions and events. He offered five major levels of responsibility, which concern just how much the individual actually intended the outcome of their behaviour or action to happen. At level one, global association, the individual is merely associated with the outcome. ...read more.


In a study involving Hindu children and white American children, Miller (1984) found that the Hindu children made fewer dispositional and more situational attributions than the Americans. This difference increased systematically with age. At eight years old there was only a slight difference with the children, at eleven there was a more apparent difference and even more so at fifteen. Miller proposed that causal attributions do not simply depend on the individual's personal history, but also result from socialisation in a particular culture. There is a tendency for people to make different attributions about the same event. The individual in the situation will primarily see their own behaviour as a response to the situation (external cause), whereas an onlooker would typically attribute the individual's behaviour to intentionality and disposition (internal cause). We are more likely to blame external causes on our own failures as this protects our self esteem. This is the self-protecting bias. When we take credit for our own successes this is the self-enhancing bias. Together they are referred to as self-serving attributional bias. (Miller and Ross 1975) When there is evidence of there being a choice in the course of action taken by an individual or group, we need to understand what underlying disposition prompted this particular decision. ...read more.


The individualistic approach is gradually being replaced with the social purposes of attribution, i.e. the shared or group patterns of attribution. Researchers Bond et al (1985) obtained group attributions from undergraduates in America and Hong Kong. In asking them to produce explanations of gender-appropriate behaviour they found that the Americans tended to favour their own group compared to the students in Hong Kong. The researchers' argument being that American culture has a strong women's liberation movement causing the undergraduates to interpret social events in terms of gender groups. Hong Kong culture is based on co-operation and avoiding social conflict and is therefore less likely to see things in terms of 'them and us'. The modern European social psychology (as opposed to the American approach) believes that shared beliefs or group membership affects the individual and general, shared explanations can be adopted by large groups or even whole societies. Attribution or interpersonal perception is the way in which the human race, either as individuals or groups, attempts to explain, predict and to some degree control the behaviour of other people. Attribution theory shows how we can rationally decide on the cause of certain behaviour yet research shows we are often biased and our views limited. Considering the rich source of 'explanations' and 'justifications' it is hardly surprising we have difficulty in attributing correctly and consistently. ...read more.

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