Fritz Heider’s The psychology of interpersonal relationships, published in the United States in 1958, has had a great impact on the development of social psychology. Heider develops the idea of cognitive balance: the perceptions individuals have of interpersonal is organised so as to provide them with a balanced vision of their environment (Heider, 1946), which lead to the emergence of attribution theory.
However, the organization of such a structured field of representation implies that the individual gives a significance to the elements and data of his environment. This is what we call attribution.
Attribution is the process through which man perceives reality and which makes it possible for him to control it.
The choice to invoke attribution theory when it comes to motivation is based on the idea that an individual’s engagement in an activity comes as an answer not to a stimulation, but to a kind of explanation, constructed in terms of internal and external causality which has been produced from observing a fact.
Defining Attribution Theory
Attribution enables the individual to explain his own behaviours and those of others, to interpret what is happening around him and to search for plausible causes that determine an event or action. Attribution Theory must explain the occurrence of certain cognitions using inference, thus reaching a conclusion on the basis of evidence and reasoning, using behaviour as a starting point.
Fritz Heider (buy his books from Amazon) stated that attribution theory concerns the process by which an individual interprets events “as being cause by particular parts of the relatively stable environment”.
Dispositional & Situational Attribution
Heider believes that people facing a great variety of conducts and situations will be tempted to analyze them and will make two distinct types of attributions:
- internal attributions – which place the responsibility of the situation or behaviour on the individual. This is called dispositional attribution
- external attributions – which place the responsibility of the situation or behaviour on the factors that influence the environment. This is called situational attribution
Some people have a general tendency towards internal attribution, assuming responsibility for almost everything that is happening to them, while others make more external attributions, usually blaming the situation.
Hetero-attribution & Auto-attribution
People make bot hetero-attributions – trying to understand the behaviour of other individuals, as well as auto-attributions – looking to understand their own behaviour. The vast research done in the field have systematically proven that people analyse and evaluate differently the causes of their own and others conducts.
It has been demonstrated without a doubt that we have a tendency of judging other people’s behaviour – hetero-attribution – based significantly more on internal factors, rather than external ones, meaning that we tend to see others as being responsible for what they do and their own fate. At the very core of this tendency of biased inferencing when it comes to others is what L. Ross (1977) called the fundamental error of attribution. When it comes to judging one’s own behaviour – auto-attribution, one tends to blame more the situation, thus making more external atributions and less dispositional ones.
Bernard Weiner's Contribution
Bernard Weiner (1979) proposes a model for analysing the attributions individuals make when they are attempting to explain success or failure. The causes people invoke for explaining their or others successes or failures can be organised on two dimensions: internal-external (or dispositional-situational), stable-unstable. By combining these dimensions we obtain four categories of possible causes (pictured in the below table)..
Bernard Weiner (buy his books from Amazon) and colleagues (e.g., Jones et al, 1972; Weiner, 1974, 1986) developed a theoretical framework that has become a major research paradigm of social psychology. Attribution theory assumes that people try to determine why people do what they do, i.e., attribute causes to behavior. A person seeking to understand why another person did something may attribute one or more causes to that behavior.
A three-stage process underlies an attribution:
- the person must perceive or observe the behavior,
- then the person must believe that the behavior was intentionally performed, and
- then the person must determine if they believe the other person was forced to perform the behavior (in which case the cause is attributed to the situation) or not (in which case the cause is attributed to the other individual).
Weiner focused his attribution theory on achievement (Weiner, 1974). He identified ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck as the most important factors affecting attributions for achievement.
Attributions are classified along three causal dimensions:
The locus of control dimension has two poles: internal versus external locus of control.
The stability dimension captures whether causes change over time or not. For instance, ability can be classified as a stable, internal cause, and effort classified as unstable and internal.
Controllability contrasts causes one can control, such as skill/efficacy, from causes one cannot control, such as aptitude, mood, others’ actions, and luck.
Application of Attribution Theory
Attribution theory has been widely applied in education, law, clinical psychology, and the mental health domain. There is a strong relationship between self-concept and achievement.
Inspired by the sociocognitive approaches to learning, Rolland Viau proposes an innovative motivation model in the context of acquiring information and completing goals.
Although the model has been initially designed for the learning student, its structures can be just as easily and successfully applied to any situation where an individual is faced with a challenge and a need to be completing a goal.
Active imagination is a meditation technique in analytical psychology used to bridge the gap between the conscious and unconscious minds: opening oneself to the unconscious and giving free rein to fantasy, while at the same time maintaining an active, attentive, conscious point of view. This strategy leads to a synthesis that contains both perspectives, but in a new and surprising way. Active imagination is considered an important aiding technique in the process of individuation and you can learn how to practice it alone by exploring the most obvious expressions of your unconscious mind – your dreams.
Emotion represents a complex of affective states that implies conscious or unconscious experiences which lead to psychological responses that either inhibit or facilitate the motivation of behaviour.
Emotions exert an incredibly powerful force on human behavior. Strong emotions can cause you to take actions you might not normally perform or to avoid situations you enjoy. Why exactly do we have emotions? What causes us to have these feelings?
Buddhist thought and philosophy share many overlapping points with present-day western psychology. These include a descriptive phenomenology of mental states, emotions and behaviours as well as theories of perception and unconscious mental factors.
Buddhism incorporates an analysis of human psyche, feelings, cognition, conduct and motivation along with therapeutic practices, everything embed within the greater Buddhist ethical thought and philosophical system, thus colouring its psychological terminology in moral overtones.
Psychotherapists such as Erich Fromm and Marsha Linehan have seen in Buddhist enlightenment experiences the potential for transformation, healing and finding existential meaning.
The shadow as a concept comprises everything the conscious personality experiences as negative. The shadow, Id, or shadow archetype refers to an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself.
In dreams and fantasies the shadow appears with the characteristics of a personality of the same sex as the ego, but in a very different configuration.
Robert Plutchik proposed a psychoevolutionary classification approach for general emotional responses. He considered there to be eight primary emotions—anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. Plutchik argues for the primacy of these emotions by showing each to be the trigger of behaviour with high survival value, such as the way fear inspires the fight-or-flight response.