Causal attribution

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The causal attribution or causal attribution describes the process of ascribing causes of one's own behavior or that of others as an aspect of attribution . Causal attribution is an everyday act performed by humans. Observed events are explored in a naive psychological and scientific manner and traced back to a possible cause. The causal attribution thus has a structuring function that gives the events a meaning, explains the causes and thereby tries to make the events predictable. Therefore, causal attributions are necessary for human coexistence. Coming from the field of social psychology , there are many attribution theories that describe this process more precisely.

Types of causal attribution

There are two basic types of causal attribution:

  • An internal causal attribution is when a person sees the cause of an event in himself.
  • An external causal attribution exists when a person sees the cause of an event in other people, environmental influences or factors.

Usually people tend to use internal causal attribution when successful. i.e., he sees himself as the cause of success. One student says z. B. that he wrote a good job because he has learned or is intelligent. In the event of failure, the external causal attribution is preferred, i.e. That is, he blames another person or an environmental influence for his failure. A student would like For example, say that he did a bad job because the teacher didn't like him or the work was way too hard. This attribution represents a protection of one's own self-esteem , since one does not see oneself as the cause of a negative event and does not have to present it.

Attribution failure

→ Main article: Attribution errors

The type of causal attribution changes depending on the point of view of the people. An observer ascribes events more to internal causes ( “The person fell because he ran.” ), The actor himself ascribes more to external causes ( “I fell because it was slippery.” ). On the part of the observer, this often leads to so-called fundamental attribution errors (also called "correspondence distortion"), i. That is, the behavior of people tends to be attributed to characteristics of the person, while situational aspects, which make up a large part of the behavioral variance, are neglected.

Attribution errors often occur when a person is in distress. That means: Even in cases in which the person in need is not to blame for their emergency situation, the observer comes to the conclusion that they are to blame for it and can therefore change it themselves ( “He is to blame if he is not Has work, because everyone who wants to work gets a job. ” ). For those affected, however, the external circumstances usually predominate (the situation on the labor market, society in general, etc.). The observed thus preserves his self-esteem , and the observer tries to uphold his belief and the ideal of a just world. He can thus maintain the belief that the situation is basically controllable.

Causal dimensions

Causal dimensions serve to divide many different causal factors into as few dimensions as possible on the basis of functional similarities. The word dimension implies that it is a continuum with two extreme poles. One causal dimension is the above-mentioned location dimension with the poles “internal causal attribution” and “external causal attribution”.

Another is the stability dimension with the poles “stable” and “variable”. This is particularly important with regard to the formation of future expectations. If one assumes that a cause is "stable", one assumes that it will still be effective in the future and will cause the corresponding event. In the case of a "variable" cause, e.g. B. if the event is traced back to chance, then one will not be sure whether the cause will be present again in the future and whether the corresponding event is conditioned.

A third attribution dimension is the controllability dimension with the poles “controllable” and “not controllable”.

These three causal dimensions (location × stability × controllability) can now be combined into a three-dimensional taxonomy with 8 cells. Example: The ability of a person is often used as an internal, stable and uncontrollable cause to explain the outcome of an action. It is therefore assumed that the action result was caused by the acting person (internal). Since ability is viewed as something stable, i.e. as a characteristic of a person that does not change from one day to the next, it is expected that the person will achieve a comparable performance result in a comparable task in the future. Abilities are often viewed as uncontrollable because, in contrast to exertion, they cannot simply be willingly influenced.

Achievement-motivated people attribute their own success to talent and effort, their own failure to a lack of effort. Failure-motivated people attribute their own failure to a lack of talent.

At this point, however, it is important to mention that causal attributions are not universals, but that there are inter-individual differences in the classification of various causes. So there are definitely people who are of the opinion that a person's ability can be increased through practice, i.e. that it is something that can be controlled.


  • Elliot Aronson : The Social Animal . Worth, New York 1999
  • Falko Rheinberg: Motivation . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2002
  • Bernard Weiner : motivational psychology . Beltz, Psychologie-Verl.-Union, Weinheim 1994
  • Bernhard Weiner: An attributional theory of motivation and emotion . Springer, New York 1986

See also

Web links