Evaluate theories of the attribution of causality (1,000 words)
It was Heider, in his seminal work The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations (1958), who first introduced the social psychology of how the layperson makes sense of the world. Heider posited that social thinkers behave like naive scientists, rationally and logically testing our hypotheses about the behaviour of others in order to create a stable, consistent social world in which it is possible to predict and control future events. In other words, social agents have an inherent need to attribute causes to effects in order to give meaning to the world around them.
According to Heider (1944), there is a clear distinction between two types of attribution employed by social agents. These are referred to as internal attributions and external attributions. Internal attributions refer to any behaviour that can be explained as attributes internal to the person such as personality, attitudes and abilities. External attribution refers to any behaviour that can be explained in relation to factors external to the person such as situation, pressure and the actions of others.
Heider’s notion of the naïve scientist has had a large impact on modern social psychology. For example, in recent criticisms of offender profiling, Mokros and Alison (2002) have criticised ‘profilers’ reliance on the naïve trait perspective, which assumes that:
“Individuals are characterised by stable and broadly generalised dispositions that endure over long periods of time and that generate consistencies in their social behaviour” (Mischel, 1999: 112).
Many subsequent theories later developed and systematised Heider’s original insights and were referred to as attribution theory; a term that is curious only in the sense that there is no one theory of how people attribute causes to events, but several different hypotheses and models designed to explain the locus of causality.
People frequently see outcomes as...