Attributing Behavior to Persons or Situation

Topic: Attributing Behavior to Persons or Situations

Posted by: Susie, James

Key Terms:

  • Attribution Theory: The theory that we tend to give a casual explanation for someone's behavior, often by crediting either the situation or the person's disposition
  • Fundamental Attribution Error: The tendency for observers, when analyzing another's behavior, to underestimate the impact of the situation and to overestimate the impact of personal disposition.


Fritz Heider proposed the attribution theory after studying how people explain others' behavior. In the theory he notes that people tend to attribute others' behavior either to their internal dispositions or to their external situations. An example of dispositional attribution is when a teacher wonders whether a child's hostility reflects an aggressive personality. On ther other hand assuming the child is reacting to stress or abuse would be situational attribution.
Fundamental Attribution Error is the tendency to underestimate situational influences on one's behavior. An experiment by David Napolitan and George Goethals in 1979 illustrated the Fundamental Attribution Error.
When explaing our own behavior, we are sensitive to how our behavior changes with the situations we encounter whereas when explaining others' behavior, particularly after observing them in only one type of situation, we often commit the fundamental attribution error: we disregard the situation and leap to unwarrented conclusions about their personality traits.
Our attributions - to individuals' dispositions or to their situations - have real consequences.

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Attributing Behavior to Persons or Situation - The Neuron

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