uk/ Social Psychology Basics 2 So part one gave a picture of how we have a natural propensity to form a coherent understanding of the world and how we try to control our social environment.'Causality',the factors or conditions which cause particular events or behaviours to occur is,fundamental to these 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 inferences about the causes of a particular behaviour.The conditions which affect how each of us attributes causes for our own and others' behaviour is known as 'attribution theory'.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 is explained 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 angry men.If he lashes out would we attribute the reasons to his character i.e. deem him a violent and aggressive person or would we instead,attribute the reason as being due to the men crowding around with aggressive dispositions? There are several attributions theories that rather than being opposed to one another are in fact complimentary.The first of these we'll look at is the 'co-variation model'.This model seeks to explain the explanations we give to people we know.Two factors are dominant in this model.The first is what we know about the person and his/her behaviour and the second is the way that persons behaviour relates to other people. The principle of co-variation posits three types of causal information we take into account for our explanations.The first is a comparison between how that persons responds to a stimulus compared to others and is known as 'consensus'.If most people are scared of a particular 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 high and 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 a highly 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 high and distinctiveness low then,we tend to attribute the behaviour as internal(dispositional) to that person.For example,if the person is afraid of the dog,though very few others are afraid of the dog,and that the person had shown fear of the dog previously then as well as of other dogs 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 external stimulus(situational).And if consensus and consistency are low but distinctiveness high,Kelley argues that the cause of behaviour is most likely to be attributed to a particular set of circumstances.Suppose for example that a friend decides to donate blood though nor,that friend or others have done so before.In this case we are likely to attribute the reason as being due to perhaps an ill friend or TV advertisement. So to summarise on the variations consensus/distinctiveness(low) + consistency(high) = dispositional Consensus/distinctiveness + consistency(high) = situational consensus/consistency(low)+distinctiveness(high) = circumstances(situational) Although this model has proved effective in making predictions in studies when the participants are asked to judge on the three attributions there has been some debate about the reliability of this model.Garland et al[1975] argues that other factors also are taken into account such as personality and context.Also,the model has been called cognitively expensive as it requires the processing of several pieces of information often simultaneously and,the subsequent assessment of this information.And keep in mind from part one that we are after all 'cognitive misers'.Perhaps on reflection or if the stimulus does not require immediate assessment then this is the method employed but for now let us now move on to what is known as 'causal schemata'. This theory was also advanced by Kelley largely due to the criticisms of the co-variation model.This model relates to behaviour observed only once and where there is no consensus,consistency or distinctiveness information.Kelley posits that without information on 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 a specific kind of effect.' One type of causal schema,'multiple sufficient causes' is the schema used when we take any one of a number of reasons as sufficient explanation of that behaviour.For example,suppose the local shop shuts.Was it because of personal or financial reasons,or perhaps due to a relocation?Each cause can be advanced as sufficient explanation.We may however be inclined to a particular one reason leading us to add weight to that one whilst discrediting and/or discounting the others.Perhaps you had had a conversation with the shop keeper some time back and he had mentioned the health of his partner as being of prime concern.It seems that you would discount the latter two reasons. A second type of causal schemata is known as 'multiple necessary causes' and apply when two or more factors are necessary for the behavioural explanation. e.g. It is necessary that one 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 necessary and 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 a logical and rational manner.However,as part one explained with 'biases' we,do not always process all available information both logically and rationally.It is biases in the attribution process 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 outcomes reflect the actor's dispositions."[Ross1977] What this means is that we tend to make dispositional(internal) attributes in explaining a person's behaviour ignoring situational(external) determinants which may in fact provide or help to provide a more adequate explanation.If someone were to splil coffee over you are you likely to accept the explanation of accident?Perhaps you would deem them as clumsy when in fact the floor was wet and with no signage. Our cognitive miserliness has us largely ignore situational reasons unless we are directly alerted to them and this has proven to be the case in many studies.However some have suggested that the error is neither fundamental nor an error by suggesting that there are circumstances in which it does not occur.One example is when the 'discounting' principle which we learned about in part one is applied.It seems to some then that rather than an error 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.For example,when we imagined the spiller of the coffee as clumsy,is that how we would explain the same action if performed by ourselves?It seems that we would firstly seek a situational explanation! Of course we have much more information of past behaviour of ourselves and when 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 an actor.In explaining our own behaviour we tend to emphasise the situational reasons.There are of course exceptions to this such as when we are asked how we achieved a certain task/accomplished a goal.This tendency to attribute our successes to dispositional factors is known as the 'self-enhancing bias'.The opposite of this which relates to attributing situational reasons when we are unsuccessful is the 'self-protecting bias'.Both these biases fall 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 taking responsibility 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 in accepting responsibility for our failure if it is evident to we and others and is a factor that we can control and and improve.An example of this would be sitting an exam and explaining

poor results as due to lack of revision.If this is not possible we may even invent a fiction prior to the exam which we then employ as explanation most likely to be a situational factor. End. In wanting to bring coherence to my many notes on this subject and others I have decided to further these posts with the next on how these biases and errors lead to prejudice and discrimination;which follows the linear progression of the structure of the text from which these notes are taken.Again,I have now forgotten the title though if interested in social psychology there are many great introductory texts available.If you wish a more substantial inauguration into the field 'The Handbook of Psychology:Vol.5:Personality & Social Psychology' is a really great text which explores the thought behind this science. Lastly,learning of these biases and attributions can leave one rather despondent on our condition.However,in learning this information we become more aware of our dispositions to act and subsequently become more apt at countering the flaws and maximising the strengths.My next post will follow in a few days.Thanks!

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