Attributions and Behavior

Attributions are explanations of behaviors. We use them in our daily lives to explain our behaviors or the behavior of others. Research shows that we typically explain others’ behavior as a result of something internal to the person or to something external to the person (Feenstra, 2013). Internal attributions are those that are blamed on individual characteristics and traits, and external attributions are those that are blamed on situational forces.

The fundamental attribution theory is when we attribute behavior to dispositional factors although there are obvious situational factors present. This is also known as correspondence bias. Research shows that people who are happy are more likely to make the fundamental attribution error versus those who are sad. This is also more likely when communicating electronically, because the situation of the sender is not known. This makes it easy to misinterpret details regarding the sender and the communication. This is an example of how the fundamental attribution error might contribute to prejudice and stereotyping, which leads to conflict.

The explanatory style of a person who makes internal, stable, and global attributions for positive things is the optimistic explanatory style. The explanatory style of a person who makes external, unstable, and specific attributions for negative things is the pessimistic explanatory style. Optimistic individuals blame outside forces for things that happen negatively, while pessimists blame themselves for negative happenings. An optimist sees their negative situation as temporary, while the pessimist sees their negative events as likely to happen again.

A pessimist’s behavior tells us that they are likely to be depressed. It is likely they learned this behavior through learned helplessness. These individuals are likely to get sick when dealing with stress. This type of individual has also been linked to a higher risk of suicide. A pessimist’s behavior suggests to me that there was possible childhood abuse and childhood neglect in the home during developmental years.




Attribution. (2016, January 8). Retrieved February 18, 2016, from

Cherry, K. (2015, May 15). Attribution. Retrieved February 18, 2016, from

Feenstra, J.  (2013).  Social psychology (2nd ed.) .  Bridgepoint Education, Inc.








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