Attribution theory provides the means by which humans attach meaning to, or determine causality of, the words or behavior of themselves or others.
Attribution theory is concerned with how people perceive and interpret events and the ways in which they relate their perceptions to how they think and act. Fritz Heider (1896–1988), a pioneer in the social psychology field of attribution, believed that when individuals observe an act or behavior, they can perceive and interpret through one of two theoretical lenses: (1) internal: people behave in specific ways due to their own personality characteristics, traits, or attitudes; or (2) external: the situation demands a particular type of response, due to factors outside the control of the individual.
A core concept in the study of attribution theory is locus of control: whether one interprets events as being caused by one's own behavior or by outside circumstances. An internal attribution would suggest that an individual's behaviors are due to that person's enduring and stable personality traits or characteristics—for example, willfulness, determination, perseverance, carelessness, self-absorption, and the like. An external locus of control, or external attribution, would suggest that elements outside the control of the individual are responsible for outcomes: poor performance on an exam would be due to badly written test items or inept teaching, for example. In general, psychologists associate an internal locus of control with optimism and physical health. People with an internal locus of control also tend to be more proficient at delaying gratification.
See also Extroverison; Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation ; Introversion ; Locus of control .
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