Defensive attributions are explanations of behaviors that serve to defend an individual's preferred beliefs about self, others, and the world.


Sigmund Freud, at the beginning of the 20th century, first popularized the idea that people's desires can bias their explanations of events. Freud proposed a variety of defense mechanisms people use to avoid threatening interpretations of their own and other people's behavior. For example, rationalization involves constructing false explanations for one's own actions that avoid negative interpretations of them.

The term defensive attribution combines the Freudian notion of psychological defense with the attribution theory of Fritz Heider. Attribution theory posits that people understand their social worlds as comprising causes and effects. The individual typically decides an action was caused either by an attribute of the individual ...

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