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Attribution Theory and Intercultural Communication

Attribution Theory and Intercultural Communication

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Published by Jan Whitehouse
The purpose of this paper is to examine attribution theory in application to intercultural communication and its particular importance with regard to intercultural understanding and avoidance of conflict. This analysis will have three main goals: first, to examine how negative attribution can adversely affect relations, second, to show how positive empathic attribution can engender positive pro-social relations between people of varying cultures, and finally, to caution against collective ethnocentric blindness to (the capacity for) error in either the negative or positive direction.
The purpose of this paper is to examine attribution theory in application to intercultural communication and its particular importance with regard to intercultural understanding and avoidance of conflict. This analysis will have three main goals: first, to examine how negative attribution can adversely affect relations, second, to show how positive empathic attribution can engender positive pro-social relations between people of varying cultures, and finally, to caution against collective ethnocentric blindness to (the capacity for) error in either the negative or positive direction.

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Published by: Jan Whitehouse on Jun 21, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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08/19/2013

 
Attribution Theory and Intercultural Communication 1Running head: ATTRIBUTION THEORY AND INTERCULTURALCOMMUNICATION
Attribution Theory and Intercultural CommunicationAn Analysis of Attribution Theory as a Dividing or Uniting ForceJan WhitehouseCOM 4461University of Central Florida
 
08
Fall
[Company Address]
 
Attribution Theory and Intercultural CommunicationIntroduction
 
The purpose of this paper is to examine attribution theory in application tointercultural communication and its particular importance with regard to interculturalunderstanding and avoidance of conflict. This analysis will have three main goals: first, toexamine how negative attribution can adversely affect relations, second, to show howpositive empathic attribution can engender positive pro-social relations between people of varying cultures, and finally, to caution against collective ethnocentric blindness to (thecapacity for) error in
either 
the negative or positive direction. The paper will addressthese goals under section headings, “the fractional,” “the tactical,” and “the practical,”respectively.
To be clear about what is meant by attribution theory, simply put, “Attributionsare our attempts to explain strangers’ behavior” (Gudykunst, 1998). Specifically,attribution is a kind of shorthand mechanism by which the human mind categorizes or assigns reasons for outcomes. Attribution theory is primarily applied to the study of individuals and interpersonal communication, but it can likewise be useful in applicationto ingroup/outgroup relations. Whether individually or collectively, people still tend toattribute outcomes, good or bad, based on their expectations of others.Attribution theory is a kind of offshoot of the study of stereotyping or 
othering 
.While stereotyping or othering attempt to explain who others
are
, attribution, usuallywith the same reasoning antecedents, seeks to explain the underlying causes behind what
2
 
Attribution Theory and Intercultural Communication
someone
did 
. Paraphrasing Gudykunst (1998) as he explains the workings of attributionon an interpersonal level, the
 fundamental attribution error 
is committed when peopleoverestimate the influence of personality traits and underestimate situational contexts thatshape the observed behavior (p. 147). For example, if someone deemed “unworthy” isassociated with a scandal, preexisting unfavorable judgments toward that person are“confirmed” owing to the person’s allegedly flawed character. Likewise, should that same“untrustworthy” person accomplish some worthy goal, his or her success is then,correspondingly, assigned to outside forces like luck. Such dismissals are usuallyaccompanied with the tacit understanding that no matter what good the individual inquestion accomplishes, the beneficial result still does not make up for this or that offense,failing, or 
other 
ness. Furthermore, the good result is then interpreted to have happenedincidentally, or even in spite of the person.These same principles can be extrapolated in application to cultures and nations.On the international and intercultural stage, outside forces and personality traits are morefittingly understood as uncontrollable and controllable scenarios.Review of the LiteratureBy referencing seminal studies in attribution theory, William Gudykunst in
 Bridging Differences: Effective intergroup communication
, lists the “default settings” for attribution and examines why these tendencies can undermine effective communicationon an intergroup level.In his chapter, “An attributional approach to intergroup and international conflict”
3

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