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Attribution

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People are less generous about other people than about themselves. Other people’s successes tend to be attributed to situational factors and their failures to internal factors.

Example: Chad’s friend Diana does manage to get a poem published in a magazine. However, she did not receive a prize in a poetry competition she entered. Chad attributes Diana’s publication success to good luck and her failure to her underdeveloped writing abilities.

Unfortunately, the just world hypothesis also leads to a tendency to blame the victim. When something tragic or terrible happens to someone, people often reassure themselves by deciding that the person must have done something to provoke or cause the event.

Example: Anthony gets into a car wreck. His friends believe that Anthony must have been driving drunk.

Cultural Influences on Attribution Style

Research suggests that cultural values and norms affect the way people make attributions. In particular, differences in attribution style exist between individualist and collectivist cultures. People in individualist cultures place a high value on uniqueness and independence, believe in the importance of individual goals, and define themselves in terms of personal attributes. People in collectivist cultures, on the other hand, place a high value on conformity and interdependence, believe in the importance of group goals, and define themselves in terms of their membership in groups. North American and Western European cultures tend to be individualistic, while Asian, Latin American, and African cultures tend to be collectivist.

People in collectivist cultures tend to be less susceptible to the fundamental attribution error than people in individualist cultures. People from collectivist cultures are more likely to believe that a person’s behavior is due to situational demands rather than to personal attributes. People from collectivist cultures are also less susceptible to the self-serving bias.

The Self-Effacing Bias

Research suggests that people who are from a collectivist culture, such as the Japanese culture, tend to have a self-effacing bias when making attributions. That is, they tend to attribute their successes to situational factors rather than to personal attributes, and, when they fail, they blame themselves for not trying hard enough.