Attribution Theory | Determinants of Attribution Theory | Attribution Error | General Psychology

What is Attribution Theory

Attribution is a process by which people interpret the causes of their own and others behavior. It is concerned with an individual’s interpretation of events and its relation to their thinking and behavior. There is internal and external attribution affected by internal and external determinants. Internal determinants are ability, attitudes, mood etc. External determinants are task, people, situation etc.

Internally caused behavior is under personal control of an individual whereas externally caused behavior is believed to be driven by situational factors that forces individuals to show certain behavior. The cause of various behaviors of every person is different. For understanding individual’s behavior it is necessary to observe them wisely. Therefore, Attribution Theory was designed to account for how people explain others’ behavior.


Determinants of Attribution Theory

Determinants of Attribution Theory



It means whether individuals have different behavior in different situations. It is the extent to which a person behaves in the same way in similar situations


It refers to whether everyone facing a similar situation responds in the same way. It extends to how everyone behaves in the same way in similar situations


It shows whether a person shows the same behavior over time. i.e it is the extent to which a person shows similar behavior every time the situation occurs.


Attribution Error

Attribution error is basically concerned with making mistakes while understanding the situation and showing certain behavior. Since individuals are not perfect, they show different behavior in the same situation. It results in perceptual difference among individuals.

Types of Attribution Error

There are three types of attribution error described below.

1. Fundamental Attribution Error
2. Self Serving Bias
3. Other Perceptual Errors

a. Selective Perception
b. Halo Effect
c. Contrast Effect
d. Stereotyping
e. Projection
f. Primary and Regency Effect


Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental Attribution Error Definition

The Fundamental Attribution Error concerns the judgment made focusing internal factors rather than external factors. Here, people underestimate the influence of external factors and overestimate the influence of internal factors while judging others. It is popular among individualistic culture.

Fundamental attribution error example

For example, managers blame the efficiency of employees on less production, though deficiency on production is due to decreased manufacturing plants. It shows weakness in individual decision making. It may provide a negative impact on long-term functioning of the organization.

Self Servicing Bias

It focuses or gives importance on internal factors for success and blame on external factors for failure. It gives credit to internal factors like ability, dedication, honesty, hard working etc for success. If individuals become failure, he blames external threats like bad luck, change in technology, competitors etc.

Other Personal Errors

There are many shortcuts for subject error while judging others. do it is useful to make perception rapidly and provide authentic information to predict behavior search shortcut technique create problem and difficulty as they lack analysis. Some errors due to attribution distortion are given below.

Selective Perception

It selects only some of the stimuli to judge others. In reality it is not possible due to lack of knowledge and interest. People may analyze and response only on basis of their interest, attitude, experience, and expectation.

Halo Effect

It draws general impressions on the basis of only one single characteristic. The person perceives on basis of single traits like intelligence,, punctuality appearance, cooperativeness etc

Contrast Effect

It is the process of evaluating or comparing other people on the basis of other people who are recently encountered. Here, person efficiency is evaluated by comparing efficiency and traits of recently faced candidates by evaluators. It is used generally in taking interviews with new applicants.


Stereotyping is judging someone or the whole community on the basis of one’s own perception of a single person. Sometimes it may help in easy adoption and helps to make quick decisions in complex situations with consistency. but then danger lies in incorrect stereotyping. It provides a negative impact and the judgment may get wrong.


Projection is the tendency to see one’s own traits on others or one’s own personal traits are assigned to others. Individuals project their own feeling, personality, characteristics, attitude or motives on others.

Primary and Regency Effect

Primary effect is concerned with the first impression of the perceiver. It considers approaches of first impression as the last impression. A person with some specific quality and efficiency can provide immediate impression on the perceiver.


Attribution Theory Quiz


According to attribution theory, attributions vary along which of the following dimensions?


A. Internal/external causes

B.  Known/unknown causes

C. Regular/irregular causes

D. Consistent/inconsistent causes
Internal/external causes


Which statement is the best explanation of the fundamental attribution error


a. We attribute most of what people do to the influence of situations.

b. We rely on the first information we receive to make internal attributions.

c. We are more likely to attribute another’s behavior to internal rather than to situational causes.

d. We tend to attribute our successes to our own efforts and failures to the shortcomings of others.

e. We are more likely to attribute another’s behavior to external rather than to dispositional causes.


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