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1. The Socio-Cultural Level of Analysis 2009 Attribution theory Attribution refers to the way in which people interpret and explain events in the social world, e.g. how…
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  • 1. The Socio-Cultural Level of Analysis 2009 Attribution theory Attribution refers to the way in which people interpret and explain events in the social world, e.g. how people come to understand the reasons why other people behave as they do. Attributions are the beliefs about why people behave as they do; attributions can be internal (dispositional) or external (situational). 1. Dispositional attributions: Sometimes we believe that the way a person has behaved is caused by factors which are specific to them as a person, their personality or other internal and generally unchanging characteristics. 2. Situational attributions: Sometimes we assume that someone’s behaviour is dependent upon their current circumstances or situation; the cause of their behaviour is seen to be external to the individual, e.g. circumstances or luck. Think! James’ boss has called him in for a meeting. He is not getting through is workload as quickly as some of the others on his team and the boss wants to get to the bottom of things. Make a list a 5 dispositional causes and 10 situational causes. Fritz Heider (1958) believed that people are logical and systematic in their explanations of behaviour, like ‘naive scientists’ formulating hypotheses and drawing conclusions. In reality, research suggests that people make attributions quickly and often based on very little information. They also show tendencies towards certain types of explanations and these have become known as attributional errors and/or biases. Using an intuitive and relatively automatic process, people do not think about making attributions; they just do it. People are experts at understanding other people – at least we all think we are – but we do not actually understand how we do it until we reflect on it. And attribution theory is one way of systematically reflecting on it. (Fiske, 2004)
  • 2. The Socio-Cultural Level of Analysis 2009 Heider and Simmel (1944) demonstrated the strength of the human tendency to explain behaviour in terms of intentions. Watch the video clip in class or on the VLE. Describe what you see in this clip: “How do people usually think and about and infer meaning from what goes on around them? And how do they make sense of their own and other people’s behaviour?” Fritz Heider. Heider believed that from an array of observable behaviour and infer unobservable causes. He believed that members of a certain culture share a ‘code’ for making sense of each other’s behaviour. Bennett (1993) explains that without understanding this code social life would hardly be possible. Jones and Davis Correspondent Inference Theory (CIT) Jones and Davis were interested in intentions. Jones and Davis argue that we should make correspondent inferences whereby behaviour and intention are linked to some underlying dispositional trait. Both the behaviour and the intention can be described in the same way, i.e. aggressive, Examples of correspondent inferences 1. If some-one gives up their seat on the train to a pregnant woman we might infer that they were ..... 2. If someone donated some money to charity we might infer that they were ..... 3. If someone began shouting at another driver on the road who pulled out in front of them we might infer that they were ..... Conditions that must be in place for correspondent inferences to be made:
  • 3. The Socio-Cultural Level of Analysis 2009 • Actor must be seen to be capable of producing the observed effects • Actor must know the effects the behaviour would produce (intention) Analysis of uncommon effects When a person chooses a particular option from several, the defining features of the choice that they have made are often used to infer dispositional traits of that person. Additionally if the chosen option may have some costs involved for the individual then we are likely to infer that the benefits that this option presents must be things that are really important to the individual. For example, say a person is buying a new car and they have seen three or four options one of which was more expensive but had a bigger boot but was otherwise very similar, we might infer that the size of the boot is something really important to that person. Create your own example: Can you make up an example relating to a friend who is choosing what to do on a Friday night from an array of several options. Try to think of options which are fairly similar in certain ways but present certain advantages and disadvantages. Choose an option that the friend might select and say what you might infer about his/her character (disposition) from that choice. Conditions affecting the application of the ‘uncommon effects’ rule a. The less the options differ, the more likely a dispositional attribution is to be made b. The more negative qualities the chosen option has, the more likely a dispositional attribution is to be made and the more sure we can be about some-one’s intentions Elaborate your example: Consider the extent to which the original options differed: try to modify your example to make a situational attribution more likely. Consider the positive and negative qualities of the options; alter your example again in such a way as to make a dispositional attribution highly likely.
  • 4. The Socio-Cultural Level of Analysis 2009 Other factors affecting the probability of making a dispositional or situational attributions • choice – if the actor’s behaviour is seen as being affected by situational factors this will decrease likelihood of dispositional attribution • social desirability – when behaviour goes against over-riding social norms, we are more likely to make dispositional attributions; conventional behaviours are often seen as simply being the product of the need to fit in; deviant behaviours are more likely to be punished and therefore are more costly and if they are therefore enacted regardless, we assume this must be due to some quality of the person • out-of-role behaviour: when people behave according to their role if tells us little about their disposition as they are’ just doing their job’ • how well we know a person is an important variable in making attributions; if we know the person well then we will know how typical the behaviour is of the person; if the behaviour is seen as atypical (unusual) it could seen as more likely down to situational factors Jones et al (1961) if you want to be an astronaut, be a loner Aim: ............................................................................................. . ..................................................................................................... ....................................................................................................... Procedure: • Pps hear someone being interviewed for a job as either an astronaut or submariner; the applicants have been asked to tell the truth unless a lie would be more persuasive! • Before the interview they hear that astronauts should be ‘inner-directed’ and able to exist without social interaction (introverted) but submariners should be ‘other- directed’ and outgoing (extroverted) • The Pps believed that the job applicants were also aware of the desirable qualities. • Pps heard interviewees either acting in accordance with the desired personality traits for the job or not in the desired way for the particularly job they were applying for. • The Pps were then asked to rate the extent to which they believed the person was really a loner or an extrovert and how confident they felt about this judgement
  • 5. The Socio-Cultural Level of Analysis 2009 Results: When interviewees presented themselves in ways which conflicted with the desirable characteristics of the job for which they were applying, participants were more convinced that the interviewees actually possessed these character traits as they went against the norms expected in order to get the job. Conclusion: When there are multiple possible causes for a behaviour, people are less confident in their attributions (e.g. if a submariner applicant says he is outgoing this could be for two reasons, one that it is true and two that it will help him get the job) however if there is just a single possible cause, then people are more confident in their attributions, (e.g. if an astronaut says he is outgoing there is only one reason to say this, it is true as it won’t help him to get the job). This supports Jones and Davis Correspondent inference theory of attribution. Kelley’s covariation and configuration models Covariation model (1967) Think: Clare is laughing her head off on Friday night at the local comedy club. What are the possible reasons? Kelly argues that we use a basic scientific notion; that causes co-vary with effects; to determine whether A (the comedian) causes B (Clare’s laughter) we should consider how often B occurs in the presence of A and whether it ever occurs without the presence of A. This makes sense but the principle can only be employed if a person has evidence from multiple observations. If two events repeatedly occur together we are more likely to assume that they are causally related. Logically, if they rarely occur together we are less likely to think this, (however, there is an attributional bias known as the illusory correlation bias which contradicts this!) Kelly believes that there are three factors which affect the attribution process. 1. Consensus; the extent to which other people behave in the same way in a given situation 2. Distinctiveness: the extent to which the actor behaves in the same way in other similar situations, particularly when there is no-one around!
  • 6. The Socio-Cultural Level of Analysis 2009 3. Consistency: the extent to which the actor behaves in the same way every time the situation arises Think: What are the possibilities relating to these three factors which would lead you to think that Clare is simply a fun-loving soul (dispositional attribution for her behaviour) or that the comedian is actually funny, (situational factors). High or Low High or Low Consensus Low: High: Distinctiveness Low: High: Consistency High: Low: Situational or dispositional? Evaluating Covariation Comparing CIT and J and D • Consensus similar to social desirability • Distinctiveness similar to uncommon effects • Consistency similar to enduring disposition Support from research evidence McArthur (1972) Experiment with independent measures: Pps given 16 behavioural descriptions; 4 were about emotional reactions, 4 were about accomplishments, 4 statements of opinion and 4 about intentional actions. Pps were asked to rate the extent to which they believed the descriptions to be due to something about the person (disposition) or something about the environmental circumstances (situation). There were two groups; one group only received the behavioural descriptions while another group received the descriptions and information relating to consensus, consistency and distinctiveness.
  • 7. The Socio-Cultural Level of Analysis 2009 IV: DV: Findings: • Distinctiveness was most important when making dispositional attributions. • Consistency was most important when making situational attributions • Consensus was not very important when making person attributions and this is not predicted by the model Evaluation: • The study is deemed to be reliable as when replicated by Major (1980) consistency was given highest priority and consensus lowest. • Likewise, Nisbett and Borgida (1975) also found that consensus information was given very weak priority when Pps made attributions about a student in a psychology experiment. The Pps were told that the student had tolerated high electric shocks in an experiments and despite being told that 16/34 Pps also tolerated shocks of a high voltage, they were no more likely to give situational attributions than those given no consensus information at all; the vivid information presented about one real concrete person was more influential than abstract base-rates relating to a group of unknown others. • Others argue that consensus information is sometimes influential but only when people are doing the opposite to what you might expect. (Wells and Harvey, 1977) • Cross cultural studies suggests that consensus information may only be disregarded by American or western Pps from individualist societies, for example, Cha and Nam (1985) found that Korean Pps made effective use of consensus information and thus were more likely to make situational attributions. • Some argue that people simply do not use the covariation rules in such a logical and systematic way (naive scientist) studies are artificial in real world this normative (ideal model) is less convincing. Configuration model
  • 8. The Socio-Cultural Level of Analysis 2009 Sometimes we won’t have access to some or all of the three types of information particularly if we don’t know the person; single occurrences of behaviour are still interpreted however; Causal schemata: (1972) ready-made beliefs, preconceptions, about “how certain kinds of causes interact to produce a specific kind of effect”; they present a form of causal short hand for making fast but complex inferences. Based on our experience of cause and effect and what we have been taught by others; used when causal information is ambiguous and incomplete.
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