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Social Psychology Basics Part 2

Social Psychology Basics Part 2

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Published by Nadeem Graham
Basic concepts in social psychology
Basic concepts in social psychology

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Published by: Nadeem Graham on Feb 11, 2013
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http://psychologybasics.blogspot.co.uk/Social Psychology Basics 2So part one gave a picture of how we have a natural propensity to form a coherentunderstanding of the world and how we try to control our social environment.'Causality',thefactors or conditions which cause particular events or behaviours to occur is,fundamental tothese processes.We discussed biases and now we move on to 'attributions'.An attribution is the process by which we use the available information to make inferencesabout the causes of a particular behaviour.The conditions which affect how each of usattributes causes for our own and others' behaviour is known as 'attributiontheory'.Explaining a persons behaviour relating to factors that are within them,i.e.something about them,is known as 'dispositional attribution'.If however the explanation isexplained in relation to the environment or social world,it is a 'situational attribution'.For understanding this imagining seeing a person being crowded around by a group of angrymen.If he lashes out would we attribute the reasons to his character i.e. deem him a violentand aggressive person or would we instead,attribute the reason as being due to the mencrowding around with aggressive dispositions?There are several attributions theories that rather than being opposed to one another are infact complimentary.The first of these we'll look at is the 'co-variation model'.This modelseeks to explain the explanations we give to people we know.Two factors are dominant inthis model.The first is what we know about the person and his/her behaviour and thesecond is the way that persons behaviour relates to other people.The principle of co-variation posits three types of causal information we take into accountfor our explanations.The first is a comparison between how that persons responds to astimulus compared to others and is known as 'consensus'.If most people are scared of aparticular dog then consensus is high and low if not.The second refers to previous behaviours with regards that stimulus and is called'consistency'.If the person has been scared of the dog some time then consistency is highand low if not.The third refers to the way that person behaves to other similar stimulus and is known as'distinctiveness'.If the person is only afraid of this particular dog then the behaviour is ahighly distinctive one and low if they're frightened by dogs in general.The creator of this model,Kelley[1972/73] argues that if consensus is low,consistency highand distinctiveness low then,we tend to attribute the behaviour as internal(dispositional) tothat person.For example,if the person is afraid of the dog,though very few others are afraidof the dog,and that the person had shown fear of the dog previously then as well as of otherdogs then we are most likely to attribute the reason as dispositional(internal).However,if consensus,consistency and distinctiveness were all high then Kelley argues that we are most
likely to attribute the reasons for the persons behaviour as being due to the externalstimulus(situational).And if consensus and consistency are low but distinctivenesshigh,Kelley argues that the cause of behaviour is most likely to be attributed to a particularset of circumstances.Suppose for example that a friend decides to donate blood thoughnor,that friend or others have done so before.In this case we are likely to attribute thereason as being due to perhaps an ill friend or TV advertisement.So to summarise on the variationsconsensus/distinctiveness(low) + consistency(high) = dispositionalConsensus/distinctiveness + consistency(high) = situationalconsensus/consistency(low)+distinctiveness(high) = circumstances(situational)Although this model has proved effective in making predictions in studies when theparticipants are asked to judge on the three attributions there has been some debate aboutthe reliability of this model.Garland et al[1975] argues that other factors also are taken intoaccount such as personality and context.Also,the model has been called cognitivelyexpensive as it requires the processing of several pieces of information often simultaneouslyand,the subsequent assessment of this information.And keep in mind from part one that weare after all 'cognitive misers'.Perhaps on reflection or if the stimulus does not requireimmediate assessment then this is the method employed but for now let us now move on towhat is known as 'causal schemata'.This theory was also advanced by Kelley largely due to the criticisms of the co-variationmodel.This model relates to behaviour observed only once and where there is noconsensus,consistency or distinctiveness information.Kelley posits that without informationon a persons past behaviour we have to rely on our 'causal schemata' which are described as'general conceptions a person has about how certain kinds of causes interact to produce aspecific kind of effect.'One type of causal schema,'multiple sufficient causes' is the schema used when we take anyone of a number of reasons as sufficient explanation of that behaviour.For example,supposethe local shop shuts.Was it because of personal or financial reasons,or perhaps due to arelocation?Each cause can be advanced as sufficient explanation.We may however beinclined to a particular one reason leading us to add weight to that one whilst discreditingand/or discounting the others.Perhaps you had had a conversation with the shop keepersome time back and he had mentioned the health of his partner as being of prime concern.Itseems that you would discount the latter two reasons.A second type of causal schemata is known as 'multiple necessary causes' and apply whentwo or more factors are necessary for the behavioural explanation. e.g. It is necessary thatone wear trainers to run a marathon but not sufficient in itself.Fitness and form filling are
also necessary.If a friend tells of his marathon glory we are apt to infer all three as necessaryand together as sufficient.These two theories are known as 'normative' models(they describe how we 'ought' to act)and are based on the assumption that we seek to explain the behaviour at all times in alogical and rational manner.However,as part one explained with 'biases' we,do not alwaysprocess all available information both logically and rationally.It is biases in the attributionprocess that we now turn.The 'fundamental attribution error' is "the tendency to underestimate the importance of situational determinants and overestimate the degree to which actions and outcomesreflect the actor's dispositions."[Ross1977]What this means is that we tend to make dispositional(internal) attributes in explaining aperson's behaviour ignoring situational(external) determinants which may in fact provide orhelp to provide a more adequate explanation.If someone were to splil coffee over you areyou likely to accept the explanation of accident?Perhaps you would deem them as clumsywhen in fact the floor was wet and with no signage.Our cognitive miserliness has us largely ignore situational reasons unless we are directlyalerted to them and this has proven to be the case in many studies.However some havesuggested that the error is neither fundamental nor an error by suggesting that there arecircumstances in which it does not occur.One example is when the 'discounting' principlewhich we learned about in part one is applied.It seems to some then that rather than anerror it is more appropriate to think of it as a bias.It occurs on explaining the behaviours of others which on observing we tend for dispositional rather than situational attributions.Forexample,when we imagined the spiller of the coffee as clumsy,is that how we would explainthe same action if performed by ourselves?It seems that we would firstly seek a situationalexplanation! Of course we have much more information of past behaviour of ourselves andwhen observing behaviour we may be fully attentive on the person.So we have learned of a new factor of the bias,the 'actor/observer bias'.We observing anactor.In explaining our own behaviour we tend to emphasise the situational reasons.Thereare of course exceptions to this such as when we are asked how we achieved a certaintask/accomplished a goal.This tendency to attribute our successes to dispositional factors isknown as the 'self-enhancing bias'.The opposite of this which relates to attributingsituational reasons when we are unsuccessful is the 'self-protecting bias'.Both these biasesfall under the rubric of 'self-serving bias'.These biases are helpful by eg protecting our self esteem by allowing us to attribute other reasons for our failings as external whilst takingresponsibility for our successes enhances it.The self serving bias also works at group level.An extension to the self serving bas is the 'self-handicapping bias' which may be employed inaccepting responsibility for our failure if it is evident to we and others and is a factor that wecan control and and improve.An example of this would be sitting an exam and explaining

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