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Why are attributions important ?

1.predict and control the environment
2.determine our feelings, attitudes, and behavior
3.Our expectations about the future are also
influenced by attributions for past events.
dimensions of causality
1.internal attributions external attributions

2. stability instability

3. controllability uncontrollability

how are attributions made

covariation mode

1)Distinctiveness Does the person act in this manner only in regard to this stimulus object,
and not in regard to other objects?

2)Consensus Doese other people act in the some way in this situation?

3)Consistency Does this person consistently react the same way at other times or in other


discounting principle

overjustification: the consequence of bribing people to do what they already like doing
they may be led to see their action as externally controlled rather than intrinsically

r self-perception the
facial feedback hypothesis



1996 4

r 1991 <>

r (arousal)intense jealousy
(intense love)
rStanley Schachter (1964)
b) ex:

False Feedback study: People get false feedback that they are aroused when in fact they
are not, they come to attribute affect to those stimuli that they believe aroused them.
slides of nude females.

Misattribution: People may be able to misattribute real arousal to a neutral stimulus.

sugar pill

(negative emotional states)


(neutral cause)(real cause)


self-perception process

1. Salience The bias leads us to perceive the most salient stimulus as the most influential. ex:

Taylor and Fiske, 1975, p.441


Facing actor A
(observers 1 & 2)







(observers 5 & 6)
Facing actor B
(observers 3 & 4)

2. Fundamental attribution error

cognitively busy

3.Actors versus observers


Why? 1)


4. False consensus effectPeople tend to imagine that

everyone responds the way they do. They tend to see their own behavior as typical.


5. Self-serving attribution bias :The tendency to take credit for success and
deny responsibility for failure


6.The illusion of control-- a belief in a just world

internal control

change subjects attributions for their problems from stable to unstable

causes, rather than from internal to external causes.


Learned helplessness occurs when people respond to the loss of control over
important events in their lives by becoming helpless and depressed. The duration and depth of the
depression depend on the attributions the person makes for the uncontrollable event (David Schmitz).

theory of learned helplessness, Seligman 1968

1.The effects of decison making and responsibility on residents in a nursing home

~choose where to receive visitors
~choose whether, when, and where to see a movie
~each given a houseplant to care for

1) still took more initiative, and were more active, vigorous, and sociable than the others.
2) the changed attitudes resulted in a lower mortality rate.

2.The context for the experimental group was the way things were twenty years ago(i.e.1959),
while for the control group the context was the present.
Results:both groups looked younger by about three years. Hearing improvement. more efficient
performance on the memory task.
Differences between two groups:

1)joint flexibility and finger length increasedgreater increase in sitting height, gain more
weight, and greater increases in tricep skinfold and bideltoid breadth, showing greater
manual dexterity, improving vision in the right eye.


2)improvement in intelligence tests.

3)While the control group changed toward greater friendliness and emotional expressiveness,
the experimental group rated themselves as increasingly unfriendly. (This may reflect the
fact that they had to work somewhat harder to maintain the time orientation than the
comparison group.)

When animals and men learn that their actions are futile and that there is no hope, they
become more susceptible to death. Conversely, the belief in control over the environment can prolong
life. The psychological state of helplessness increases the risk of death.
ex: 1973

The wild rat (Rattus norwegicus) is a fierce and suspicious creature.
~If a wild cat was placed in a large vat of warm water from which there was no escape,
the rate would swim for about 60 hours before drowning in a state of exhaustion. Other rats were
first held in the investigators hand until they stopped struggling, and then they were put in the
water. These rats swam around excitedly for a few minutes, then suddenly sank to the bottom and
drowned without resurfacing. A few died even earlier--in the hand of the investigator. When
restraint was combined with trimming of the whiskers, a primary sensory organ of the rat, all rats
tested showed sudden death.
~In the most common forms of death in mammals, the heart speeds up as death
occurs. These are called sympathetic deaths, referring to the excited nature of the
sympathetic nervous system: tachycardia and increased blood pressure quickly pump blood
from the heart to the extremities--in short, emergency death. Richters wild rats, in
contrast, showed parasympathetic death, or deth from relaxation: the heart rate slowed
down and the heart was found on autopsy to be engorged with blood.... Richter concluded
that he found death from hopelessness,
death caused by giving up the struggle. (Richter, C.P. On the phenomenon of
sudden death in animals and man. Psychosomatic Medicine, 1957, 19, 191-198.)
also see: Engel, G. L. Sudden and rapid death during psychological stress, folklore
or folkwisdom? Annals of Internal Medicine, 1971, 74, 771-782.


Sears, D.O., L.A.Peplau, & S.E.Tayor. 1991,Chapter 4: Attribution, in Social Psychology (7th ed.),
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 102-135.
Wilson, Timothy D. and Patricia W. Linville. 1982 Improving the Academic Performance of College
Freshmen: Attribution Therapy Revisited, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 42.
No.2, 367-376.
Seligman, M.E. P.1975. Chapter 8: Death, in Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death.
San Francisco: Freeman & Company, 166-188.
Seligman, M.E. P.1990. Learned Optimism. New York: Alfred Knopf.
Langer, Ellen J. 1989. Mindfulness. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.