How do people organise information relevant to events;
in particular how do they attribute causes to events or if you like
explain the causes of an event?
We see someone hit or yell at someone and we infer reasons for these
a) A generally hostile person?
b) Something harmful was done to him/her?
c) Was our previous picture of this person inaccurate and we must now
view them in a new way?
These are the kind of inferences and attributions we are constantly
making in our daily lives.
Actor/Self = attribute to the situation
Observer = attribute to personality
Remember from Rotter’s locus of control and learned helplessness that
people maintain beliefs about their ability to influence or control
events in their lives? A related area concerns peoples explanations for
success or failure. Bernard Wiener (1979, 1986, 1990) suggests people’s
attributions vary in terms of their locus of causality and their
Locus of causality = internal (a part of yourself such as ability or
effort) or external (factors outside yourself such as task difficulty or
Stability = stable (some causes seem to be fairly stable e.g. ability)
or unstable (other causes seem to vary from time to time e.g. effort)
In general people tend to see success as reflecting a cause that is BOTH
internal and stable (their ability, probably because this enhances their
Whereas people in general tend to see failure as having an unstable
cause which might be internal or external (bad luck or not enough
You can see the implications of this: if you see the causes of failure
as being unstable then you don’t need to constantly worry that you’ll
fail in the future: things will probably be different next time. If
however you think the causes are stable (i.e. because you don’t have the
ability or the world’s against you) then you’ll expect to fail all the
time. Obviously your behaviour, thoughts and feelings can be deeply
influenced by these types of expectations. Many theorists suggest that
if you perceive bad outcomes as being due to stable factors or reasons,
this likely leads to depression (e.g. Abramson, Metalsky, & Alloy,