“Attribution theory deals with how the social perceiver uses the information to arrive at causal explanations for events. It examines what information is gathered and how it is combined to form a causal judgment.”
Attribution theory is concerned with how and why ordinary people explain events as they do.
Heider (1958) believed that people are naive psychologists trying to make sense of the social world. People tend to see cause and effect relationships, even where there is none!
Heider didn’t so much develop a theory himself as emphasizing certain themes that others took up. There were two main ideas that he put forward that became influential.
- Internal Attribution
The process of assigning the cause of behavior to some internal characteristic, rather than to outside forces. When we explain the behavior of others we look for enduring internal attributions, such as personality traits. For example, we attribute the behavior of a person to their personality, motives or beliefs.
- External Attribution
The process of assigning the cause of behavior to some situation or event outside a person’s control rather than to some internal characteristic. When we try to explain our own behavior we tend to make external attributions, such as situational or environmental features.