Attribution Theory

Actions and Reactions

Attribution Theory simply stated, speculates how individuals explain actions, behaviors or situations whether it be theirs or another’s.

This hinges on variables such as perception and self-image.

People have a natural instinct or reaction to judge others actions and defend their own.

Perception covers a wide span of territory as it takes into consideration someone’s attitude and personality, this being dependant on their outlook of themselves and the world.

Attribution Theory positive and negative
When we have a negative outlook either of ourselves or the outer world you place more stress into your life as you continue to battle your own pessimistic attitude.

As said by Norman Vincent Peale,

“Change your thoughts
and you change your world”.


Positive thinking gives you a more confident and secure self image and in turn yields more happiness in your direction.

The attribution theory was developed by Fritz Heider and his colleagues and looks at two different ways in which individuals would explain why things happen.

  • External – means the cause is due to an outside force and therefore the individual themselves are not at fault.
  • Internal – means that you accept personal responsibility and place the cause of your actions upon yourself.
  • Although the attribution theory observes that all behavior results from both external and internal forces we have a tendency to lean more towards one direction or the other in our explanations.

    If I say to you, “You’re a bad driver”. Are you going to say to me, “Yea, I guess I could use some good tips for driving” or are you going to say something like “You are just a nervous passenger” or maybe blame it on the weather. Chances are you will defend your ego and self image by redirecting any blame of bad driving away from you and place it on an outside factor to deflect you being sited as the cause of bad driving.

    If on the other hand I say to you, “This presentation that you developed is outstanding”. Would you be more likely to take personal responsibility based on your knowledge and skills that you contribute to its success or would you place the cause on an outside factor such as chance or an unplanned success.

    The attribution theory would lay odds that your successes you would contribute to being caused by your own knowledge, skills and abilities and if you experienced a miscalculation that resulted in an error that you would contribute this to an outside factor such as you were given the wrong information. In defense of our own image, if an adversary were to have succeeded you may most likely credit it to luck or an accident.

    Attribution Theory

    As the behaviors and explanations were researched further it was found that if this theory was applied appropriately it was possible in some cases to alter an individual’s behavior. This alteration would be based on their need to live up to a higher standard if they believed that another’s expectancy of them was perceived as higher than their own. This is where the attribution theory proved that if you set the bar higher for some they will strive to achieve those expectations.

    As part of the positive negative presumption if you tell someone they are outstanding at their job they will strive even harder to show their excellence. Therefore they will be more outstanding at their job. Showing individuals recognition not only maintains a positive atmosphere but reduces stress as it boosts individuals self esteem.

    Also click here to read The Power of Words

    The short video below will share with you
    What the Keys are to being a Great Leader.



    For more detailed research and test study results in relation to positive negative perception and behavior with regard to the attribution theory you can read the, ‘Psychology of Interpersonal Relations’ by Fritz Heider.

    Psychology of Interpersonal Relations by: Fritz-Heider


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    Other Related Links

    Build Self Esteem
    Self Confidence
    Self Improvement
    The Power of Words
    Positive Thinking Techniques
    Attribution Theory and perception
    The Importance of Motivation
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