An important part of social cognition is Causality- the factors that cause events or behaviours to happen. Attribution is the process people use to work out what caused an event or behaviour. The conditions that affect how we attribute causes is called Attribution theory.
The main factors in attributing causes are Dispositional Attribution- the behaviour is caused by a characteristic of that person, and Situational Attribution- the behaviour is caused by their physical or social environment. Internal biases also affect how we attribute blame to them and which factors we concentrate more closely on.
The main psychologist involved in attribution theories is Kelley, who developed two different and complementary theories.
Kelley's first theory is the Co-Variation model, which is used for explaining the behaviour of people we know. It is based on what we know about the persons previous behaviour, and how it compares to other peoples behaviour.
The Co-Variation Model
According to Kelley, we take three types of information into account when we make attributions. The results of this information decides if we attribute the behaviour to the person, the situation, or both. For each of the pieces of information, use the example of a person scared of a particular dog.
The first piece of information is Consensus. This is the amount that other people have the same behaviour as the person . If lots of people have the same behaviour (e.g. are scared of the same dog) consensus is high. If a very small amount of people have the same behaviour, consensus is low.
The second piece of information is Consistency. This is the amount the behaviour has happened in the past. If the persons behaviour is their usual response (e.g. if they have always been afraid of that dog) consistency is high. If they have never been afraid of it before, consistency is low.