Attachment Theory Versus Attribution Theory, Politeness Theory Versus Face Theory: Comparative Analysis

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The detailed study of language, usually interpersonal communication, came in the history of humanity and we consciously or unconsciously interpret what the body of the other says to give meaning to words. However, interpersonal communication is defined by the exchange of messages and codes between two individuals. The implication of the notion of distance constitutes an important point of communication because it identifies what kind of communication the interlocutors are granted. The concept of proximity refers to this interpersonal distance between two people. Interpersonal communication takes place in our daily life whenever we are in contact with someone. Whether it's for a question, a request, a remark, an order, we use interpersonal communication to convey our intention. Our ability to use interpersonal communication will help us a lot in our projects. However, less incompetence or conflict to communicate can be obstacles to our success and success. According to D. O. Braithwaite & P. Schrodt (2015), interpersonal communication can be described as the production and process of all verbal and nonverbal interactions between individuals in society. We can also say that it is the process of interaction that we use to transmit our ideas, thoughts, and emotions to other people and trigger a reaction. It includes aspects such as face-to-face: verbal (words voice) and non-verbal (gestures, posture, facial expression) and fits into a specific spatial and temporal context with a conscious or unconscious intention, that of the issuer. Its challenge is mutual understanding, which is sometimes difficult to achieve for a variety of reasons, such as word choice, lack of listening, or a noisy environment. This interpersonal communication makes it possible to give an identity to our person, and certain theories allow to better discern certain actions and reactions of our person during a conversation.

Part 1.

Attachment theory

The theory of attachment is more or less focused between the biological bond and communication, this theory shows how the human being since a young age is brought to attach his caregiver, by the emission of certain hormones. A bond that can be positive or harmful to the human being in the field of health and at the same time creates an openness between individuals that facilitates interpersonal communication. It is a primary and innate social need to relate to others. The function of attachment is for Bowlby (1951) cited in D. O. Braithwaite & P. Schrodt (2015), an adaptive function of both protection and exploration. For example, the mother, or her surrogate, is a safety net for her child. The newborn has a lot of instinctive behaviors, such as clinging, sucking, crying, and smiling, that can be used for the benefit of attachment. After a few months, a relationship of attachment, open and selective, and unique relationship to a privileged person, is established. And attachment styles can vary based on the function of relation with whom we are interacting, and attachment gets stronger when people keep engaging in social interaction. However, it can be said that the theory of attachment is one of the human motivations that promote interpersonal communication between the individual. This theory facilitates and brings individuals to be open to each other during the interaction (mother and child bond, romantic partners). Since childhood, the bond between mother and child or substitute and child grows stronger over time. Mothers who are sensitive to the signals of their children will develop a secure relationship with them, mother-child attachment is relatively stable over time, and children who have benefited, at a young age, from a secure relationship with their mother, might develop more social skills than insecure children. The attachment theory for adult describes different variables that an individual has developed throughout his life to communicate with others. And Depending on his attachment style such as secure, fearful, insecure or preoccupied can determine his or her relationship with others.

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Attribution theory

As humans we have a tendency to interpret, at some point, the behavior, being our behavior or others. Attribution Theory is can be used to judge how people perceive their own behavior and others by assigning them meaning. It also tries to elaborate how people give causal explanations.

The attribution theory of Heider (1958) stated in D. O. Braithwaite & P. Schrodt (2015) attempts to analyze how we explain the behavior of others and the events of life. In other words, how do we assign attributions on behavior? However, we tend to attribute the behavior to one of two causes, which can be an internal cause for instance personality traits, intelligence, motivation, or an external cause chance, situation, or interventions of other people. Heider's attributions help to better understand certain personal behavior. Locus, for example, may be internal or external depending on the person or context. This is related to self-esteem. An individual who attributes his or her failures to personal factors will experience a significant decline in self-esteem. It will use an internal control locus. Stability refers to the assessment, and effort we make of the stability of behavior over time. If a subject attributes the failure to factors that he considers to be stable over time for example career difficulty, his or her motivation for accomplishing that goal will decrease. On the contrary, if we attribute it to unstable factors, our motivation will not be reduced. Responsibility is the extent to which a person can be held responsible for an event.

These attributions can be realized for the behaviors performed by ourselves or by other people. they may have an internal or external locus, stable or unstable. The different combinations that appear are those that will indicate motivation and self-esteem. For example, if a young man wins in a competition, we could say that this is because he has trained a lot and prepared himself persistently. This attribution is internal and refers to another person. However, if we attribute the fact that the young man won a race because the other participants were not prepared, it would be an external attribution. Moreover, the internal attributions of the successes to which we attribute stability and controllability are positive. This type of assignment increases self-esteem and, by the same token, motivation. On the contrary, if these same attributions are attributed to failures, self-esteem is reduced, as well as motivation. In their explanation of Attribution Bippus and Young's theory described that when people do positive actions or have positive actions they place the responsibility on themselves but blame others whenever negative actions or emotions happened (Bippus, A. M., & Young, S. L.2005).

It would not be surprising to make different assumptions for similar events. In the same way, different people can assign different attributions to the same event. For example, for some people, failing an exam would be due to a lack of ability (internal cause and stability), for others it would be a result of the difficulty of the exam (external cause and unstable). These variations, in addition to influencing self-esteem and motivation, also have a decisive influence on expectations.

Strengths and weakness

Attribution theory is practicable and its principles and dimension are identifiable in our daily interactions the process of negotiating attribution for example happens in our conversation when we try to determine and give meaning to why something happened, (D. O. Braithwaite & P. Schrodt, 2015) this aspect can be a strength of this theory. As the strength of Attachment theory is generalized and found in many perceptions of emotion and behavior that happens in life which discern it applicability in a relationship (Guerrerro, 2015). In addition to it applicability, it is intuitively appealing as individuals can relate to the four attachments to see where they fit in relation with others.

Regarding the limits of this theory, depending on how we interpret the behavior of others, we will think of them in many ways. But these attributions are not always perfect, or objective. We often make mistakes in interpreting behaviors. Therefore, attribution theory has given rise to other related areas of research like the theory of fundamental attribution error. When we interpret behaviors, we use shortcuts and detours that lead us to make erroneous assignments. Our previous beliefs often motivate these attributions. In addition, attributions will influence our relationship with the people for whom we attribute behaviors. As a result, we will tend to pay attention to those who have better attributes than others, we will accept them more and take their opinion more seriously. On the other hand, the weakness of attachment theory since some individuals are comfortable in showing and giving affection and other are less comfortable which show the attachment style difference and as result, it makes the argument for some researcher that it is not a theory but something to glorified individual difference variable and because the attachment style is treated exclusively as a personality variable.

Contrast similarity

Overall, The Attribution Theory focuses on assigning meaning to individual behavior during their interactions. It’s a theory that relates to the psychological, and cognitive aspects to assign meanings to our behaviors in the interaction. Whereas Attachment theory explains the biological traits of individuals as closeness to each other. Researchers see attachment theory and affection exchange theory as more biology evolutionary. Like a natural state of humans to protect and connect with offspring according to evolutionary theorists.

I like the attachment theory over the attribution theory because for people attachment can be one big motivation to engage in communication. We feel more comfortable and open when we feel a closeness in a relationship (relatives or romantic). It seems to have a biologic aspect that makes people caregiver bond and being protective for their offspring relationship and make communication easy.

Part 2.

Politeness theory

In a conversation actions that can affect (modify or maintain) the relationships of oneself and others in face-to-face or distant communication. Politeness communication can be done through in e-mails or even in social networks. An important part during the interaction or conversation is justified mainly by the relational value we have with others, in other words, either seeking a closeness or supremacy, concern to protect our face, to spare others, or to lose our face, even though this relational value that we have for other is hidden or minimal. One of the most remarkable features of recent developments in conversational linguistics is the interest in the functioning of politeness in verbal and nonverbal interactions, which is seen in everyday society during our interactions. In this perception, politeness is seen as a set of processes by which the desire for the preservation of the faces can be united with the fact that most of the acts performed during the interaction risk threatening one or another of the faces in the presence. In other words, politeness gives an identity, a self-image that we want to present to our audience. However, certain strategies allow us to engage in a conversation, or to respond to a situation by giving an opinion, support, or hints to our interlocutor. We do not want to engage any actions that might be threatening our face want, considering that everyone wants to be free from imposition when performing their identity to be accepted by others, negative face want (Goldsmith, Normand, 2015). We can be direct or indirect in our strategy. The way to apply the strategies depends on numerous factors such as how the power between individuals ( who in more in control in the relation), the distance referring to how close individuals are to each other, and the rank which is about the cultural aspect of how a topic can be threatening. Bald on record is considered to be more direct in requesting or replying to someone. It is mostly used by people who are romantic partner or close intimate friends. However, with positive face redress, this is where we talk about some issue to our audience or listener by bringing our support, support to him or her. Whereas, with the negative face redress we can announce and talk about a problem by staying respectful to minimize hurtful action or speeches. In contrast Off record, individuals have a tendency to give hints to their listeners during interaction and an issue or topic. Or often they will do anything to address an issue and leave it the way it is.

Face Theory

In the theory of the face, the interaction is presented as a place similar to a theater scene, where we do perform our identity, among other things, dramaturgical. The participants in the interaction then define themselves as actors, convey an image of themselves, their faces, and try to promote it through their actions. The face is defined by Goffman as the image that someone puts into play in a given interaction, (D. O. Braithwaite & P. Schrodt, 2015)

The face can be challenged at each interaction for example in case of poor performance. An individual has a concern in preserving his or her face when it is threatened, and not lose it. To help in this task, there are different types of strategies to allow the actor to present a good face and not losing face in the interaction. Expressive rituals are procedures that aim to protect everyone's images in interaction. As we prepare ourselves for the front region “Face threats can occur when a speaker threatens his or her own face or another person’s. Face threats, then, can be directed toward the speaker or the hearer” (Hasting, Bell, 2018, p 98). However, there are moves that can reduce the face threat, such as humor, and apologizing. These rules will allow everyone not to lose face to the other, (consideration) and to look good (self-esteem). This face work, as we daily prepare ourselves in our back region to perform our acts, work, when manage to not be caught on our front region to not be in the wrong face, be out of face or losing face, however, individuals can use the process of preventive or corrective face work such as apologizing, justification or avoidance to move out of a situation that might affect their face.

Strength, limit, Contrast, similarity

As common points these two theories are practicable, in our daily routine we apply consciously or unconsciously the politeness theory and the face theory. Politeness theory's ability to understand and evaluate behavior when they happen can be considered a strength. Moreover, it directs our attention on judging the behavior of people's action during the interaction, and the use of language to enact identity. However, politeness theory is limited by some notion which can be its weakness. Some researchers argue that culture can limit the notion of the universality of this theory. Because cultures are different, people cannot apply this theory of politeness everywhere. For example, some culture might consider bald on record as an efficient strategy of politeness that other might find offensive or aggressive to people feel. In addition to culture, gender can also be considering a weakness of this theory. Some society might accept women being on record where others rather like to see women adopting the positive face redress or negative face redress approach because women are more caring and supportive. Therefore, bald on record can be seen as a sign of defiance. Compared to politeness, face theory has broad scope and explains phenomena that make us communicate and follow rules that guide us to understand the actions of ours and others. On the other hand, because of its broad scope, this theory gets weakened by the criterion of parsimony. However it does cross the cultural boundary, because we always rehearse, and get reading in the back region to perform our identity on the front region our identity (work, profession).

Both of these theories seem very useful and practicable as they are almost noticeable in our everyday life, however, I will lean more toward the face theory because every time an interact we always try to show and protect a better image of ourselves. In addition, we learn and apply everyday corrective moves to fix any wrong face or out of face that some circumstance might put us against.


All these four theories have the notion of applicability as strength in interpersonal communication. This shows that although interpersonal communication offer more theories, the applicability allows to promote and makes the interaction more meaningful and rational. However, these theories present many benefits on practicing interpersonal communication in a supportive and productive way. First and foremost they benefit oneself and others, to help us to perform our identities and to understand the behavior of others. They allow understanding of physical and emotional connection, without crossing the freedom of others by imposing our needs and so understanding aspects of relationships.

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Attachment Theory Versus Attribution Theory, Politeness Theory Versus Face Theory: Comparative Analysis. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
“Attachment Theory Versus Attribution Theory, Politeness Theory Versus Face Theory: Comparative Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Attachment Theory Versus Attribution Theory, Politeness Theory Versus Face Theory: Comparative Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 Jul. 2024].
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