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Attribution theory is a social psychology theory developed by Fritz Heider, Harold Kelley, Edward E. Jones, and Lee Ross.

The theory is concerned with the ways in which people explain (or attribute) the behavior of others or themselves (self-attribution) with something else. It explores how individuals "attribute" causes to events and how this cognitive perception affects their usefulness in an organization.


Elements of Attribution Theory

Developed by Bernard Weiner

1. Locus - location of the cause—internal(dispositional) or external (situational) to the person

  • Closely related to feelings of self-esteem
  • If success or failure is attributed to internal factors, success will lead to pride and increased motivation, whereas failure will diminish self-esteem

2. Stability - whether the cause is likely to stay the same in the near future or can change

  • Closely related to expectations about the future
  • If students attribute their failure to stable factors such as the difficulty of the subject, they will expect to fail in that subject in the future

3. Controllability - whether the person can control the cause

  • Related to ambitions such as anger, pity, gratitude, or shame
  • If we feel responsible for our failures, we may feel guilt
  • If we feel responsible for our successes, we may feel proud
  • Failing at a task we cannot control can lead to shame or anger


Covariation Theory

Developed by Harold Kelley examines how people decide whether an internal or an external attribution will be made.

The theory divides the way people attribute causes into two types.

  • "External" or "situational" attribution assigns causality to an outside factor, such as the weather.
  • "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 covariation model developed by H. H. Kelley.

See also


  1. ^ Second Canadian Edition of Educational Psychology, by Anita Woolfolk, Philip Winne, and Nancy Perry.
  • Heider, Fritz. (1958). The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-36833-4
  • Woolfolk, Anita (2007). Educational Psychology. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc..
  • Vockell, Edward L (2001). Chapter 5, Educational Psychology: A Practical Approach.

External links



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