By Saul McLeod , published Attribution theory is concerned with how ordinary people explain the causes of behavior and events. For example, is someone angry because they are bad-tempered or because something bad happened? A formal definition is provided by Fiske and Taylor , p. Heider believed that people are naive psychologists trying to make sense of the social world. People tend to see cause and effect relationships, even where there is none! There were two main ideas that he put forward that became influential: dispositional internal cause vs situational external cause attributions.
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Advertise Here! The Article in Full The processes which are involved in perceiving other individuals, their behavior and their personal qualities, have received but little attention in psychological literature.
Although these processes are basic in almost any social act, few experimental investigations relating to them are to be found.
It is true that there have been studies concerning the inference of emotions from gestures or facial change. The reason is that research in this field has seldom been carried out from the point of view of the psychology of perception. The same is true of another group of related investigations which concern the correctness of our judgments of others.
If processes of perception are mentioned they are treated only so far as they impair the correctness of judgment. In the investigation of the apprehension of colors, forms, or movement, which has attained a more mature stage of development, questions of achievement or correctness - though these still play a role of legitimate importance with some psychologists e.
Brunswik - have largely given way to other problems. When the perception of movement is investigated, it is with the purpose of finding out which stimulus conditions are relevant in the production of phenomenal movement and of determining the influences of the surrounding field.
Only when we attempt to answer these questions can we hope to deepen our insight into the processes of perception, whether of movement or of other human beings. The experiments on the perception of the behavior of others here reported are in method and purpose different from the investigations mentioned.
In the first place, instead of presenting faces with the exclusion of the situation, we have presented situations and activities without the face. Secondly, our aim has not been to determine the correctness of the response but instead the dependence of the response on stimulus-configurations. Our subjects were requested to interpret a moving picture-film of about 2 and a half minutes duration in which three geometrical figures a large triangle, a small triangle and a disc, also called a circle were shown moving in various directions and at various speeds.
The only other figure in the field was a rectangle, a section of which could be opened and closed as a door is. The film, one frame of which is shown in Fig. The geometrical figures were cut from cardboard and placed on a horizontal translucent-glass plate illuminated from above. A mirror below the plate threw the image into the camera.
After each exposure the figures which were to be shown in motion were moved a short distance, then another exposure was made, and so on. In the following description of the main features of the picture, the action is, for purposes of reference, divided into scenes.
T moves toward the house, opens door, moves into the house and closes door. T moves out of the house toward t 4. T and t fight, T wins: during the fight, c moves into the house 5. T moves into the house and shuts door 6. T chases c within the house: t moves along the outside of the house toward the door 7. T seems to try to get out of the house but does not succeed in opening the door: t and c move in circles around outside of the house and touch each other several times 9.
T opens the door and comes out of the house T chases t and c twice around the house T hits the walls of the house several times: the walls break The scenes of the picture shown in advancing order will be referred to by f forward added to the number of the scene, those of the picture shown in reverse by r.
Three experiments were performed with three different groups of undergraduate women: 34 Ss in Experiment i: 36 in Experiment ii; 44 in Experiment iii. In all three the film was shown twice, instructions given before the presentation of the film. The time allowed for describing the picture and answering the questions was not limited. In the first experiment, instructions were general; "write down what happened in the picture.
It contained the following questions; 1 What kind of a person is the big triangle? What did the big triangle do then? What did the little triangle and the circle do then? In the third experiment the same picture was shown in reverse. S was instructed to answer Questions 1, 2, 3, and 10, above. A large majority of them did. Only one S described the film almost entirely in geometrical terms.
Her report follows. A large solid triangle is shown entering a rectangle. It enters and comes out of this rectangle, and each time the corner and one-half of one of the sides of the rectangle form an opening. Then another, smaller triangle and a circle appear on the scene. The circle enters the rectangle while the larger triangle is within. The two move about in circular motion and then the circle goes out of the opening and joins the smaller triangle which has been moving around outside the rectangle.
Then the smaller triangle and the circle move about together and when the larger triangle comes out of the rectangle and approaches them, they move rapidly in a circle around the rectangle and disappear.
The larger triangle now alone, moves about the opening of the rectangle and finally goes through the opening to the inside. He sic! All other Ss interpreted the movements as actions of animate beings, in most cases of persons; in two cases of birds.
Nineteen Ss reported a connected story. Two examples of this last group are given below, the first representative of the interpretation commonly made in the group, the second an excerpt of a report showing unusual elaboration. The first man tells the second to go; the second tells the first, and he shakes his head. Then the two men have a fight, and the girl starts to go into the room to get out of the way and hesitates and finally goes in.
She apparently does not want to be with the first man. The first man follows her into the room after having left the second in a rather weakened condition leaning on the wall outside the room.
The girl gets worried and races from one corner to the other in the far part of the room. Man number one, after being rather silent for a while, makes several approaches at her; but she gets to the corner across from the door, just as man number two is trying to open it.
He evidently got banged around and is still weak from his efforts to open the door. The girl gets out of the room in a sudden dash just as man number two gets the door open. The two chase around the outside of the room together, followed by man number one. But they finally elude him and get away. The first man goes back and tries to open his door, but he is so blinded by rage and frustration that he cannot open it.
So he butts it open and in a really mad dash around the room he breaks in first one wall and then another. But we are not sticking to the theme of our story. Triangle number-one shuts his door or should we say line and the two innocent young things walk in. Lovers in the two-dimensional world, no doubt; little triangle number-two and sweet circle. Triangle-one hereafter known as the villain spies the young love.
He opens his door, walks out to see our hero and his sweet. In this experiment a few features were common to all reports save that first quoted using geometrical terms. These common features follow. In Scene 4, T and t fight; in Scene 8, T is shut up in the house and tries to get out; in Scene 10, T chases t and c; throughout the picture, T, t and c move the door the door never moves the actors.
In Experiment ii, all Ss followed instructions and interpreted the movements as human actions. We shall try to indicate the degree of uniformity found in the answers.
The reasons given for the interpretations are necessarily only tentative and based on impressions in viewing the picture. Questions 4 and 10 refer to the main interpretations Q. T and t fight. The events of impulsion with sudden impact give rise to this interpretation. The reason for this is that during the course of the picture t and c are frequently shown moving together, they appear together in the field and they leave the field together.
On the other hand, t fights T, and c is chased by T. The fight between T and t is the central event and the stories can best be classified in terms of the cause of this fight. T is an aggressive bully and he attacks t, or t and c, without any further reason.
In one of these cases, T is a witch who tries to catch the children t and c. In the remaining cases the cause lies, at least in part, in the situation. This story has several variations: T does not want to marry c; T is the villain, t the hero and c his sweetheart; the wife c of T came home with another man.
In three cases it is stated that T and t fight over c, but no allusion is made to an erotic triangle. In opposition to these cases are those in which the cause of the fight lies in the behavior of t and c.
Two Ss write that T is provoked to his aggression by the fact that t and c tease him; in one case the fight started because t and c want to regain the house which T had taken from them; one S reports that T is an angry mother who wants to punish her two children because they came home late.
Thus S obtains a unified story and a central theme by referring to the causes of the events as seen in the picture. The personality of T is judged with great uniformity. The expressions used are classified below in groups containing words with similar meaning.
After each group is indicated the number and after the larger groups also the percentage of Ss who used at least one word of a given group. Aggressive, warlike, belligerent, pugnacious, quarrelsome, troublesome, mean, angry, bad-tempered, temperamental, irritable, quick to take offense, bully, villain, taking advantage of his size, picking on smaller people, dominating, power-loving, possessive.
One S each. We might expect that T would be described differently according to whether the cause of the fight is seen to lie in his personal characteristics or in the situation. Even an average man can become aggressive when he is provoked. T is almost always described, however, as an aggressive bully, even in the cases in which the fight starts, because t and c tease T. The reason lies probably in the way he fights t.
Advertise Here! The Article in Full The processes which are involved in perceiving other individuals, their behavior and their personal qualities, have received but little attention in psychological literature. Although these processes are basic in almost any social act, few experimental investigations relating to them are to be found. It is true that there have been studies concerning the inference of emotions from gestures or facial change. The reason is that research in this field has seldom been carried out from the point of view of the psychology of perception. The same is true of another group of related investigations which concern the correctness of our judgments of others. If processes of perception are mentioned they are treated only so far as they impair the correctness of judgment.
Log in What is the Attribution Theory? Description The Attribution Theory by Fritz Heider is a method that can be used for evaluating how people perceive the behavior of themselves and of other people. Attribution theory is about how people make causal explanations. In his book "The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations", Heider says that all behavior is considered to be determined by either internal or by external factors: External Attribution: causality is assigned to an outside factor, agent or force. Outside factors fall outside your control.
His family was Jewish. After growing tired of studying architecture, Heider attempted to study law at Graze as well but eventually became tired of both subjects. Since he really liked to learn for its own sake, he struck a deal with his father and proceeded to audit courses at the university for four years. Afterwards, he traveled to Berlin, where he attended lectures at the Psychology Institute. In , Heider was offered an opportunity to conduct research at the Clarke School for the Deaf Northampton, Massachusetts , which was associated with Smith College , also in Northampton.
Attribution Theory: The Psychology of Interpreting Behavior
Share Fritz Heider was an Austrian born American psychologist of the Gestalt school, In he published The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations, which systematized and expanded upon his creation of balance theory and attribution theory. Heider was born in Vienna, Austria in His approach to higher education was rather casual, and he wandered freely throughout Europe studying and traveling as he pleased for many years. At the age of 24 he received a Ph. In , Heider was offered an opportunity to conduct research at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, which was associated with Smith College, also in Northampton. This prospect was particularly attractive to him because Kurt Koffka , one of the founders of the Gestalt school of psychology , held a position at Smith College Heider,