Attribution theory is a field of social psychology, which was born out of the theoritical models of Fritz Heider, Harold Kelley, Edward E. Jones, and Lee Ross. Attribution theory is concerned with the ways in which people explain (or attribute) the behavior of others. It explores how individuals "attribute" causes to events and how this cognitive perception affects their motivation. Think of "explanation" as a synonym and "why" as the question to be answered.

The theory divides the way people attribute causes to events into two types:

  1. "External" or "situational" attribution assigns causality to an outside factor, such as the weather,
  2. whereas "internal" or "dispositional" attribution assigns causality to factors within the person, such as their own level of intelligence or other variables that make the individual responsible for the event.

The following quote explains the attribution theory:

"The foolish deer feels that God saved him from the injured lion, forgetting the swift legs that God gave." Srijit Prabhakaran

People often make self serving attributions. So, if something good happens to themselves or someone they like, they tend to see it as having an internal, stable cause ("I aced the test because I'm so smart), and when bad things happen to themselves or people they like they are more likely to make external unstable attributions ("I did badly on the test because it was so hard, and I had a headache") Similarly, they will attribute good things happening to a person that they do not like to a situational factor (they got lucky) and something bad happening to a dispositional factor (they are stupid).

An example of this, in politics, could be the collapse of the Soviet Union. US leaders attributed it to something dispositional about themselves (we were strong and steadfast, democracy persevered). Also, oftentimes, failing Third-World economies - Read more...