Attribution II : Biases Dr Elizabeth Sheppard C81IND Individual in Society
Primary questions • When do we make attributions? • Do people’s attributions show any systematic biases?
When do we make attributions? • Weiner (1985) reviewed evidence for “spontaneous causal thinking”. • Two key factors which elicit attributions 1.) Unexpected events 2.) Non-attainment of a goal • Kanazawa (1992) found expectancy only an effect on causal thinking • Loss of control ( Liu & Steele, 1986) • Emotions such as sadness and anger (Keltner, Ellsworth, & Edwards, 1993)
Attributional biases • A number of studies have suggested that in comparison to scientists or statisticians, laypeople are inaccurate in their attributions • A bias occurs if the perceiver systematically distorts some otherwise correct procedure • 2 classes of explanation for attribution biases • 1.)Motivational (need) • 2.) Cognitive (informational)
Why are biases in attribution interesting? 1.)They tell us about how people really do make attributions, rather than how they should 2.) Understanding bias can help us to promote social justice
Fundamental attribution error/ Correspondence bias • A tendency to underestimate the impact of situational factors and to overestimate the role of personal dispositional factors in controlling behaviour • Ross, Amabile, & Steinmetz (1977) – randomly assigned participants in quiz game to roles of contestant and ‘quiz master’ • Quiz master was asked to set difficult questions • Both contestant & quiz master rated the questioner as much more knowledgeable, overlooking advantages conferred by being questioner
Issues surrounding the fundamental attribution error • Not universal to all cultures (Miller,1984). • No criteria for accuracy, thus referred to as • correspondence bias.
Explanations of correspondence bias • Motivational – Dispositional attribution gives us a sense ofcontrol - just world hypothesis • Cognitive – emphasise knowledge base of attributions and social information processing. • Salience explanation (Rholes & Prior, 1982) • Differential rates of forgetting (Peterson, 1980) (counter evidence – Burger, 1991)
Actor-observer differences (divergence) • Actors (self) attribute their actions to situational factors whereas the observer (other) tends to attribute the same actions to stable personal dispositions. • e.g. Shyness in tutorial group
Explanations of Actor-observer differences • Cognitive explanations 1.) A greater amount of information available to the actors or self-raters 2.) Focus of attention (perceptual explanation)
Perceptual explanation of the actor- observer effect • Storms (1973) found actors became less situational, and observers more situational when shown new orientation of the situation.
Actor-Observer differences Motivational component • Buehler, Griffin & Ross (1995)- extended the actor-observer differences to other kinds of judgement and found motivational component • Found individuals tend to underestimate how long it would take them to complete a task, whereas they would predict others would take longer to do the task
Self-serving bias • Tendency to attribute one’s success to internal causes, but attribute failures to external causes • E.g. Kingdon (1967) interviewed successful & unsuccessful American politicians about major factors in successes & failures. Tended to attribute wins to internal factors (hard work, reputation) but failures to external (lack of money, national trends) • Actually involves 2 two biases – 1.)self-enhancing bias (taking credit for success) 2.) Self-protecting bias (denying responsibility for failure) • Self-handicapping bias – more subtle form of self-serving bias
Explanations of self-serving bias • Cognitive explanation - Miller & Ross (1975) If people intend to succeed, then behaviour can be seen to be due to their efforts, then it seems reasonable to accept more credit for success than failure • Motivational explanation – Zuckerman (1979) argues the need to maintain self-esteem directly affects the attribution of task outcomes
The False Consensus Effect • Tendency for people to see own behaviour as typical & assume that others would do same under similar circumstances • Ross et al. (1977) – asked • students if they would agree to • walk around campus for 30 mins • wearing sandwich board saying • ‘Eat at Joe’s’ • Those who agreed estimated • 62% of peers would agree • Those who refused estimated • 67% of peers would refuse
Explaining the false consensus effect • Cognitive • Our own opinions are more salient to us & displace consideration of alternatives • We seek out company of similar others so encounter more people with similar beliefs, interests etc. – experience inflated consensus • Motivational • We subjectively justify the correctness of our opinions by grounding them in exaggerated consensus – may enable stable perception of reality
Group-serving biases (Ultimate attribution error) • Tendency to attribute bad outgroup & good ingroup behaviour internally, & to attribute good outgroup & bad ingroup behaviour externally • Hewstone & Ward (1985) – study of majority malay & minority chinese ethnic groups in Malaysia • Participants read stories that were either positive or negative involving either ingroup or outgroup actor • Malay group made internal attributions for positive ingroup behaviour & external for negative ingroup behaviour, reverse for outgroup • However, chinese group made same pattern of responses i.e. favoured the outgroup • Hewstone & Ward explain this in terms of the particular nature of intergroup relations at this time
Explanations for group-serving bias • Cognitive - • Social categorisation generates category-congruent expectations (schemas, stereotypes) • Behaviour that is consistent with stereotypes is attributed to internal causes (e.g. Bell et al., 1976) • If behaviour confirms expectation may rely on dispositions implied by stereotype without considering other factors • Motivational – • Need to obtain self-esteem from group membership by comparing with other groups (social identity theory) • Vested interest in maintaining ingroup profile that is more positive than relevant outgroups
Explaining bias: motivation or cognition? • Early research apparently favoured ego-based explanations for bias • However, by manipulating info available, can modify biases implying information processing errors • But is social cognition really affect-free? • Cognitive & motivational explanations are linked, making it difficult to choose between the two • Cognitive explanations actually contain motivational aspects (Zuckerman, 1979) • Motivational factors can have an effect on information processing (cognition)
Effects of biases • Controversy over effects of biases • Some argue our judgements are highly erroneous – more errors in real life than the lab (Nisbett & Ross, 1980) • Others say we are generally accurate in judgements but lab set up to generate error (e.g. Funder, 1987) • Cognitive misers – people use least demanding cognitions to produce behaviour generally adaptive (Taylor, 1981)
Summary • Various biases affect social judgements/attributions: • Fundamental attribution error • Actor-observer differences • Self-serving bias • False consensus • Biases are probably the result of an interplay between cognitive and motivational factors
References • Hewstone & Stroebe (2001) Introduction to Social Psychology, Chapter 7. • Fraser & Burchell (2001) Introducing Social Psychology, Chapter 11.