Attributions are inferences that people make about the causes of events and behavior. People make attributions in order to understand their experiences. Attributions strongly influence the way people interact with others.
Researchers classify attributions along two dimensions: internal vs. external and stable vs. unstable. By combining these two dimensions of attributes, researchers can classify a particular attribution as being internal-stable, internal-unstable, external-stable, or external-unstable.
Attribution theory proposes that the attributions people make about events and behavior can be classed as either internal or external. In an internal, or dispositional, attribution, people infer that an event or a person’s behavior is due to personal factors such as traits, abilities, or feelings. In an external, or situational, attribution, people infer that a person’s behavior is due to situational factors.
Example: Maria’s car breaks down on the freeway. If she believes the breakdown happened because of her ignorance about cars, she is making an internal attribution. If she believes that the breakdown happened because her car is old, she is making an external attribution.
Researchers also distinguish between stable and unstable attributions. When people make a stable attribution, they infer that an event or behavior is due to stable, unchanging factors. When making an unstable attribution, they infer that an event or behavior is due to unstable, temporary factors.
Example: Lee gets a D on his sociology term paper. If he attributes the grade to the fact that he always has bad luck, he is making a stable attribution. If he attributes the grade to the fact that he didn’t have much time to study that week, he is making an unstable attribution.