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Chemistry LibreTexts

Social Theories

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    Social Psychology Theories

    • Attribution
    • Foot-in-the-Door
    • Cognitive Dissonance

    Attribution Theory

    How are you inspired? Are you inspired by people who give up their six-figure incomes to build schools in underdeveloped regions? Are you inspired by men and women who fight for the freedom of the United States? Are you inspired by a little boy or girl who suffers from an illness yet smiles from ear to ear? Think about these questions. How do you explain their choice to live an extraordinary life? The attribution theory is the way in which we explain other people’s behavior. We can attribute the reasons to be one of the following:

    • Situational
    • Dispositional- the predominate trait; the emotional outlook of a person.

    Let’s look at the following example:

    Steve stepped on Cathy’s shoe. From a situational perspective, we would note that Steve was probably in a rush and he accidentally stepped on her foot. If, on the other hand, we reason that Steve is always mean—we are speaking about his disposition or attitude. The fact is that Steve stepped on Cathy’s shoe. What do you attribute to his behavior? How you look at it is described in social psychology as the attribution theory.

    Let’s look at another example:

    John is a student who never talks in class. He does have many friends in the class, yet he remains quiet. John's teacher describes John as a quiet student who is focused. One day, the teacher took the class on a field trip. The teacher was surprised to see John was screaming out of the bus window. She overestimated the fact that John may not speak in class as he does not like to talk in this environment. The teacher underestimated the situation and overestimated John’s disposition. This is called the fundamental attribution error.

    Attribution Theory: The ways in which people explain (or attribute) the behavior of others or themselves (self-attribution) with something else.

    Attribute: The cause; what caused the behavior

    Fundamental Attribution Error: The tendency for people to over-emphasize dispositional, or personality-based, explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing situational explanations.