1. Understanding the Attribution Theory
We, as human beings, do a lot of things in our day-to-day lives and those actions are tried to make sense of in this social world. We are curious to understand people, we need to make sense of WHY they do what they do Attribution theory which is developed by Fritz Heider, the famous Austrian psychologist is based on this attribution. He published the book “The Psychology of Interpersonal Relationships” in 1958 which marked the primary discussion of the Attribution theory. The theory was first brought into light by Heider but was later developed by various psychologists and in relation to the theory, various models were attempted to explain the behavioural processes of attribution.
Definition of Attribution: The process by which people use the information to make inferences about the causes of behaviour or events.
The Attribution theory is a part of Social Psychology. Fritz reflects upon the causes of individual acts and events with the help of this theory. Attribution theories describe how we explain the causes of other people’s behaviours.
So, how do we go about trying to explain the behaviours of other people around us? We do it in a few different ways. One of the things we do is try and break it down our understandings and explanations of the behaviour into factors about them and the factors related to their environmental surrounding.
Here’s an example to give a good understanding of how simply the attribution theory applies in people’s behaviours and its different perspectives:
Let’s take someone we encounter who is a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. This person might have an incredibly caring and generous personality. And he might be engaging in those volunteering behaviour to help others and that might be the true cause so in that case, we can draw a correspondent inference between his behaviour and his personality but it’s not quite as simple as that because we also realise that people who volunteer for Habitat for Humanity can accumulate some credits essentially so that later on if they need housing they are going to be on top of the list and when people are building houses it’s going to be this person who gets the house, so you see how in that situation we are not necessarily able to say that he engaged in these behaviours because of something about him. He is a warm, caring person who might have engaged in these volunteering behaviours because of what he is essentially going to get out of it.
Fritz Heider grouped people’s explanations into two simple categories:
- The Attribution Theory
- Internal Attributions External Attributions
- (Personal/Dispositional) (Situational/Circumstantial)
- assigns causality to the factor assigns causality to outside
- within the person. agent or force.
When the question of ‘why’ arises the answer either relates to Internal Attribution or External Attribution.
Fritz Heider would analyse the way that people would come to these types of explanations and conclusions and then generally found two basic categories and that is people can draw personal attributions and determine that people are engaging behaviours because of something internal about the personal meaning specifically their personality, their disposition, their attitudes.
Let’s take into consideration an example:
When James Comey, the director of the FBI before the 2016 presidential elections in the USA, spread the knowledge that claimed that the FBI is still working on the investigation of Hilary Clinton and her emails, many people believed that he was releasing that information because of his true political beliefs and that he is a conservative Republican and he realised that by releasing that information that it would sabotage Hilary Clinton’s campaign and that is how we can connect it to an internal attribution, that means that engaging in these behaviours tells us something about him, his traits and his attitude.
On the other hand, there is a way people can explain behaviours in another way and that is not by saying that the behaviours betray something about the person but that they tell us something more about the situation that the person was operating under. So, situational attributes are more external in nature, they are more circumstantial.
Let’s take the same example given previously into consideration again,
But, now looking at it from someone who’s making a situational attribution.
They might say James Comey released information about a continued FBI investigation on Hilary Clinton but it wasn’t because he is a Republican, it was because he understood in that situation, he had to provide the American people with all the information that he could because he realised that if he withheld that information, and if after the election, once it became known that he had the information, everybody would think there’s a huge cover-up. So, in this situation, looking at it through a completely different point of view at his behaviour was making public that the FBI was still continuing their investigation, They would look at that behaviour and say that it doesn’t tell us anything about him as a person and his traits and attitude it just tells us about the situation that he was operating under.
1.3. Biases in Attribution
We human beings, we have quite different perceptions, these perceptions can be affected by the things we believe in, the people we spend time with, how we are ourselves as a person. Our attributions are a part of us and hence they differ. Although people are often reasonably accurate in their attributions—we could say, perhaps, that they are “good enough” (Fiske, 2003)—they are far from perfect. Our perception can overlook and not understand all the factors and reasoning that can have us concluding not an accurate attribution.
Also, the way of life that we live in significantly affects the manner in which we consider and see our social settings. Accordingly, it isn’t astounding that individuals in various societies would observe and consider individuals fairly in an unexpected way. One distinction is between individuals from numerous Western societies (e.g., the United States, Canada, Australia) and individuals from numerous Asian societies (e.g., Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, India). In our talk about the self-concept, individuals from Western societies will in general be fundamentally arranged toward independent nature. This prompts them to have a free self-idea where they see themselves, as well as other people, as independent creatures who are to some degree separate from their social gatherings and conditions. Interestingly, individuals in numerous East Asian societies take a progressively reliant perspective of themselves as well as other people, one that stresses not so much on the individual but instead the connection among people and the other individuals and things that encompass them. A result of these distinctions is that, normally, individuals from individualistic societies will in general spotlight their attributions more on the unique individual, though, individuals from collectivistic societies will in general spotlight more on the circumstance. (Ji, Peng, & Nisbett, 2000; Lewis, Goto, & Kong, 2008; Maddux & Yuki, 2006).
And so, we derive the two terminologies that explain the biases in Attribution:
1) The Fundamental Attribution Error
One way that our attributions might be one-sided is that we rush to property the conduct of other individuals to something individual about them as opposed to something about their circumstances. This is an exemplary case of the general human propensity of thinking little of how imperative the social circumstance truly is in deciding conduct. This bias happens in two different ways. To begin with, we are too liable to even think about making solid individual attributions to represent the conduct that we watch others taking part in. We are more likely to say “That Mr XYZ who is a celebrity is doing charity work because he is a kind person” rather than saying “Mr XYZ is doing charity work to look good in the public eye.”
2) The Self-Serving Bias
Our attributions are in some cases one-sided by influence especially the longing to enhance oneself. In spite of the fact that we might want to imagine that we are constantly judicious and precise in our attributions, we regularly will in general misshape them to make us feel better. Self-serving attributions are attributions that help us meet our desire to see ourselves positively (Mezulis, Abramson, Hyde, & Hankin, 2004). A basic example to this bias, which is simply the propensity to credit our victories to ourselves, and our defeats to other people and the circumstance. We ourselves make self-attributions. Maybe you have reprimanded another driver for a mishap that you were in or faulted your better half as opposed to yourself for a separation. Or on the other hand, maybe you have assumed praise (inside) for your victories yet faulted your disappointments for outside causes. In the event that these decisions were fairly not exactly precise, yet they benefitted you, at that point, they were without a doubt self-serving.
2) The role of Attribution Theory in Persuasive Communication.
Persuasive communication can be written, visual, verbal or any combination of these forms, and it is designed to sway a person’s beliefs or actions. In other words, it is communication that convinces you to do or think something that you might not think otherwise. Whereas, the attribution theory challenges people’s actions and beliefs and breaks down the theory for us to understand WHY they do what they do. So, we can explain their connection or co-relation in a way that without understanding or questioning the causes of people’s behaviours, one wouldn’t be able to apply the approach of persuasive communication that makes one think and believe beyond their usual ways. For example, if a teacher wants to help a student whose performance has been poor, they would have to understand the way that the student approaches the subject and where the student is lacking, in order to correct them and make them believe that they can do better than that. Well, that being said, in other circumstances, the swaying might be for the good, it can have any kind of impact that one would try to have on their subject.
Application of the attribution theory in the advertising world.
3.1. Richard M. Sparkman, Jr. William B. Locander* (1980) “Attribution Theory and Advertising Effectiveness.”
“ A factorial experiment was conducted to determine the effects of advertising context on the perception of an advertisement. Kelley’s attribution variables were used to define four dimensions of context: consensus, consistency over time, consistency over modality, and distinctiveness.” (as mentioned in the research study)
The research mainly depends on Kelly’s covariation/ANOVA model to conclude to the questions raised throughout the research paper.
So, before getting into the depth of this study, here is a brief explanation about the theory:
Attribution theory is a group of theories. Here is the theory which simply describes how we think about the situations so we can draw causal attribution so we can determine how to attribute the cause of someone’s behaviour.
Kelley’s Covariation Model (1967)
Kelley’s (1967) covariation theory is the best-known attribution hypothesis. He built up a sensible model for making a decision about whether a specific activity ought to be attributed to some behaviour (dispositional) of the individual or the circumstance (situational).
The term covariation just implies that an individual has data from numerous perceptions, at various occasions and circumstances, and can see the covariation of an observed impact and its causes.
Kelley mentioned that people consider three types of factors while analysing the causes of other people’s behaviours:
- Consensus: How do others react to the same stimulus
- Distinctiveness: Does the person react the same way?
- Consistency: Is the person’s behaviour consistent over time?
Kelley’s covariation and configuration model
And hereby we end with a brief discussion of these theories and now we can observe how these theories have been studied in order to give advertising a better perception to understanding the consumers and the environment surrounding them.
Kelley’s ideas of single observation case and multiple observations are taken into an advertising situation where ads are considered to be behavioural events. With this methodology, a study that examines the impacts of controls of the substance of single ads obviously falls into what Kelley calls the single observation case. On the other hand, if an ad claims multiple claims, each claim can be taken as a separate event and can be taken under as a single observation case. Whereas the multiple observation case can be applied to the study of attributions of individual claim advertisements. Single observation cases are limited to the manipulations of the content of ads and their claims and the multiple observation cases study the context of the manipulation’s effect of the ads and their claims.
The study really emphasises and is more or less based on the questions that were raised by Smith and Hunt (1978) in the Journal of Consumer Research “Attributional Processes and Effects in Promotional Situations” which are related to advertising content and which are equally important for the application of attribution theory to an advertising context. These questions/issues are:
- Are attributional processes evoked by the context in which an advertisement appears? Do consumers make attributions about advertising events based on other behavioural events that were also observed?
- Assuming their existence, what model best explains these attributions based on advertising context?
The study concludes the first issue by mentioning that the context of advertisement can arouse the attributional processes. “Product attribution for identical ads was found to vary with the number of persons willing to advertise the product. Thus, with content constant, attributions can be changed by the advertisement’s context.”
They came to this conclusion after studying that through Kelley’s covariation theory and model which also included mathematical work that Kelley operated with in his theory and the result in a non-mathematical format was that context can influence attributions in a non- advertising way. Since, the theory wasn’t tested in an advertising situation, a pilot study with the same ad layouts but with different context/scenarios was designed to test the four hypotheses. The content and the idea of the ad which was going to experiment was:
- Ralph Jones, a Houston businessman, has recently agreed to appear in ads for a mid-size car, Car X. Several other men and women will also appear in ads for this car. Ralph has agreed to advertise Car X for the next three years. He will appear in magazine ads, TV commercials, and also make personal appearances in dealer showrooms. Ralph has never done an ad before and will not advertise any other products.
- Out of which, hypotheses 1 (H1) stated that “Attribution to the product will increase with increasing consensus.” In the pilot study, the attribution to the product did not increase with increased consistency over-time, distinctiveness and consistency over modality. Which, hence, brings us to the answer concluded and explains that similar advertisements with different contexts can have attributional effects.
- However, the second question could not be answered, as the Kelley’s covariation theory and model when applied in the pilot study could only one dimension, consensus, was shown to be useful for explaining product attributions in relation to the advertising context. The other dimensions were not related to the concluded result. The result concludes that the model cannot be applied in an advertising environment. Although, it is not completely irrelevant as one of the dimensions did produce a hypothesized effect.
- The study really gives us a clear idea on the perceptions of advertising content and advertising context.
- It is the first study which takes the best approach in the history of the attribution theory i.e. Kelley’s covariation model and experiments it in the advertising world and familiarises the ad industry with the new born relativity between the product attributions and the advertising context.
- The single/multiple observation cases can be really effective to give the consumers as well as the advertisers a real perspective and simplify the attribution process
- This research is the first study to take the techniques of the theories of attributions which one strong branch of the persuasive communication and actually apply in the ad world in order to bring new outcomes which could be further used as techniques in the ad world and hence use it on a large scale as even though the attributions are used to at the research level to understand the customer’s feelings and wants but it still has to work up on its application in the ad campaigns.
4) The Attribution Theory and the politics
The world is changing and so is its politics, political campaigns are built to always the most controversial and known, and what would it out more than involving the term ‘celebrity endorsement to it. Celebrity endorsements have turned out to be progressively well known in the political circle. Specialists worldwide have announced the expanded inclusion of famous people in political battles as endorsers of parties, applicants, and issues.
All things considered, the thought processes behind celebrity support are clear: Politicians co-select popularity to spur individuals to cast votes in favour of them, just as to impact their mentalities and casting voting propensities. This subject will be discussed further in regards to the theory of planned behaviour and the attribution theory.
These celebrity endorsements increase the popularity of the campaigns and contribute in the enhancement of the party’s ideas, and beliefs, about its candidates when compared to no involvement.