Attribution Styles (An Update)

Your attributional style is the way you provide an explanation for a negative event to yourself.

The way you reflect on consideration on why a bad aspect has taken place to you or The conclusions you draw from a negative occasion is known as your attribution style.

In this article, we will discuss attribution and attribution style. 


Attribution refers to the way of describing the cause of an event or behavior.

People tend to put responsibility for certain events or their own behaviour.

It can also be defined as a person making inferences about why an event took place.

Attributes are used by people to make an understanding of their experiences. It also influences the way of interacting with other people.

Attribution Style:

Attribution style can be defined as how an individual describes or justifies a negative event.

The style of thinking about a particular event and why it took place.

How a person draws conclusions of an event and the meanings he tends to attach with it.

For Example, if a student couldn’t pass his maths test and if he has a positive attribution style his response will be logical and he will say that the test was not easy to pass and he did not prepare for the exam well.

So, it was not easy to pass the test. He will work hard next time to pass the exam.

If a student has a negative attribution style and he fails the test he will talk illogical and will blame himself for not being a good student and it is evident from these marks that I am not a good student in other subjects as well.

Signs of Negative Attributional Style: 

If a person has a negative attribution style when he will come across any event he will explain the event in a way that it will look like, internal, global and stable.


If a person has a negative attribution style and a negative event happens he will think that this has happened because of something inside him.


Negative attribution style is thought to be stable if a negative event happens the person will lable it as that it will keep on happening and circumstances won’t change.


In this type of negative attribution style a person who encounters a negative event he will make it look like a global in its significance.

Types of Attribution:

 Researchers have done a two dimensional classification of Attribution. 

These classifications are as; internal vs external and stable vs unstable. Follow is the explanation of these types.

Internal vs External:

Theories related to attribution state that people who make attribution about event and behaviour, these attributions are either internal or external.

Internal attribution is also known as dispositional. In this type of attribution people tend to infer that event or a behavior is a result of their own fault, traits, skills and thoughts.

While, external attribution is also called situational.

In this type of attribution people think that the cause of event is influenced by the situational factors.

Stable vs Unstable:

In a stable attribution people who encounter negative events in their life tend to think that these circumstances are not going to change and they are constant.

While, in an unstable attribution when a negative event happens people think that it has happened due to temporary factors.

Attribution Theory:

This theory focuses on how ordinary people tend to infer and explain the causes of an event.

Definition of attribution theory states that “ how information is perceived and explained by an individual and hoe he narrates causes of these events.”

Heider has put forward his ideas related to attribution which are dispositional and situational attribution.

Jones and Davis Correspondent Inference Theory:

In 1965, Jones and Davis put forward an idea that an individual tends to pay more attention to his intentional behaviour as compared to his unintentional behaviour.

Theory presented by Jones and Davis helps us understand how an internal attribution is made.

They are of the view that people usually do this when they observe a correspondence among behavior and motive behind it.

Internal attribution is a source of information which can help us to get to know about how a person will likely behave in future.

This theory aims to explain the conditions under which a person is likely to draw internal attribution to his behaviour which is considered intentional.

The term correspondent Inference was used by Davis to describe how to infer that a person’s behaviour matches his personality.

How is a correspondent Inference drawn?

Here are five sources of information listed by Jones and Davis to understand this. These are as follow;


A person demonstrates free behaviour then it means that it is due to the internal factors.

Accidental vs Intentional Behaviour

When a person shows an intentional behaviour it is believed that it is due to the personality of the person and when a person shows an accidental behaviour it is believed that it is due to external circumstances.

Social Desirability

Behaviours which are low with social desirability or are non conforming enable us to draw internal inferences more than those behaviours which are socially undesirable.

Hedonistic Relevance

If a person’s behaviour intends to harm or benefit other people directly or indirectly this is known as hedonistic relevance.


If a person’s behaviour apparently appears to have its impact on us, it is assumed that it is personal and is not produced by the situation we both are facing.

Kelley’s Covariation Model:

In 1967 Kelley presented his covariation model which is considered to be best known attribution theory.

He came up with a model which can distinguish between whether a particular behaviour is a result of dispositional characteristics of a person or situational factors also played a part in this.

Simple meaning of covariation is that an individual possesses information which is gathered from different observations at different times and different situations and can easily understand the covariations of observed causes and effects.

He is of the view that while trying to find the causes of a particular behaviour people try to act like a scientist.

People take three different kinds of evidence which are as follow:


It refers to a limit to which different people show similar behaviour in while being in a similar situation.

For example, if a person smokes in friends gathering and his friends also smoke it means that it is high in consensus but if a person smokes alone in this gathering it means that it is low.


It is referred to as an extent to which an individual shows the same behaviour in a similar situation.

For example, if a person only smokes when he is in a friend’s gathering then distinctiveness is high and if a person smokes any time anyway regardless of his surroundings then distinctiveness is low.


If a person behaves like this every time the situation occurs.

For example, if a person only smokes in friend’s gathering then consistency is high but if a person only smokes at one special occasion then consistency is low.

Attribution Theory (B. Weiner):

In 1974, Weiner developed a theory which has gained enormous attention in social psychology.

This theory tries to explain why people try to figure out why people do what they do.

There are three stages of the attribution process.

An individual must be able to understand or observe behaviour.

Then individual must be able to understand that this behaviour was shown intentionally

Then the individual must be able to comprehend whether the person was forced to demonstrate the behaviour or not.

The focus of Weiner’s attribution theory was mainly on achievements.

He pointed out some factors which influence attribution for achievement i, e ability, effort, task difficulty and luck.

There are three different dimensions in which attribution are divided i, e stability, locus of control and controllability.

There are two poles of locus of control: internal versus external locus of control. Stability focuses on whether there is any variation in causes or not over a certain period of time.

Controllability focuses on the causes which can be controlled (Skills, abilities) and which cannot be controlled (mood, luck, aptitude).

Application of Attribution Theory:

This theory is applicable in a wide range of fields: Clinical Psychology, Law and in the mental health domain.

Self concept and achievement are strongly related to each other. A person’s reaction towards success and failure are determined by causal attribution.

In 1990 Lewis and Daltroy discussed how attribution is applicable in the health care sector.

An interesting development was observed in 1996 when Daly applied the attribution theory on career development.

He examined the attribution of employees as to why they receive promotion or they fail.

Attribution Theory has also been helpful in distinguishing in motivation among low achievers and high achievers.

Attribution theory states that those people who have higher achievements tend to take more risk and tend to get difficult tasks done because they think that success can only be achieved by putting more efforts and and being confident about their skills and abilities.

While, it is thought that failure is a cause of bad luck or poorly taking the exams, i.e this failure is not due to them thus failure does no harm to their self esteem.

On the other hand, employees who are considered low achievers tend to avoid taking risks and putting efforts in the task because it is observed that they doubt their skill sets and abilities so they refrain from doing the task which can make them high achievers.

FAQs about Attributional Styles

Q1. What is Attribution?

Attribution refers to how a person responds to negative events.

Q2. What are the signs of Negative Attribution?

There are few signs of negative attribution: internal, external and stable.

Q3. What are the types of attribution?

Following are the types of attribution :

internal vs external and stable vs unstable.

Q4. What factors influence attribution?

Factors that influence are  locus of control, stability, and controllability

Q5: What are common attributional errors? 

The common attributional error included one’s tendency to explain other behavior in terms of internal factors such as personality and to underestimate situational or external factors.