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Attribution Theory

Definition

Attribution theory—or rather, a family of attribution theories—is concerned with the question of how ordinary people explain human behavior. One type of attribution theory emphasizes people's use of folk psychology to detect and understand internal states such as goals, desires, or intentions. People then use these inferred states to explain the behavior they observe. Another type of attribution theory assumes that people observe regularities and differences in behavior to learn about dispositions (e.g., personality traits, attitudes) that are characteristic of themselves or others. Attribution theories pose a challenge to academic efforts to account for behavior that either fail to explain the individual behaviors of individual people or that deny the usefulness of folk psychological (or mentalistic) concepts. Attribution theories are complemented by what is sometimes ...

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