Attribution Theory


Automatic vs. Controlled Processing

Automatic Processing: The idea that because of our limited information processing capacity,
we construct social impressions without much thought or effort, especially when we lack the
motivation for careful assessment or when our initial impressions are confirmed.

Controlled Processing: An effortful and careful processing of information that occurs when
we are motivated to accurately assess information or if our initial impressions or
expectations are disconfirmed.


Attribution Theory Example

- Brandi is an aggressive person.
- Brandi was in a bad mood.
- Reino is a 98-lb weakling and everyone picks on him.
- Reino insulted Brandi.


Attribution Theory




Person (Internal)    


Sources of Attributional Ascriptions

- Consensus
- Consistency
- Distinctiveness



Schachter and Singer study: Inject students with epinephrine, telling them it was a
vitamin. Place students in elated vs. angry situations, then ask why they are feeling
the way they are.


Reasons for the Actor - Observer Differences in

- You could be committing the fundamental attribution error.
- There is a deviation from a regularity.
- I could be trying to protect my self-esteem by attributing my failure to an external
factor; you are not so motivated to protect my self-esteem.



Handy rules of thumb that serve as shortcuts to organizing and perceiving social reality.


Availability Heuristic

A shortcut used to estimate the frequency or likelihood of an event based on how quickly
examples of it comes to mind.


Representativeness Heuristic

A rule used to judge the probability of an event or a person falling into a category based
on how representative it or the person is of the category.


Counterfactual Thinking

The tendency to create positive alternatives to a negative outcome that actually occurred,
especially when we can easily imagine a more positive outcome.


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