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Attribution Theory in Interpersonal Communication

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Communications
Wordcount: 1329 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Theory Explanation Paper

When starting a new job, Jon is scared to meet his new co-workers. Since coming into the office, Jon hasn’t been introduced to a single person who doesn’t like him, until Brandon. Brandon doesn’t participate in the small talk and goes back to his office. Jon negatively concludes that since Brandon doesn’t talk to him, he doesn’t like him. However; Brandon does like Jon, he was just having a hectic morning. Interpersonal communication is used daily throughout conversations. Whether its face-to-face, over the phone or subconsciously. This method of communication plays into Attribution Theory, the psychological phenomenon for explaining how people perceive others.

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Interpersonal communication is the process by which people exchange feelings, information, and meanings through verbal and non-verbal messages. These messages can use face-to-face communication or technology. Interpersonal communication is not solely about what is said, but how it is said. Non-verbal messages can be communicated through tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, and body language. This can be seen when two or more people are in the same place and are aware of each other’s presence; although no one is talking, communication is taking place, no matter how unintentional. Without speech, an observer mat be using cues of how the person across from them is sitting, their facial expression, and how they dress to form an impression of the other’s personality and intentions. Although no verbal communication took place, people perceive messages though such forms of non-verbal communication.

Perception is the process of actively assessing information in a person’s surroundings. This involves becoming uniquely aware of their surroundings and interpreting this using their sensory stimuli. When using stimulation, people are only receiving select sensory ques, meaning, they only select some of the information they receive. Secondly, people organize these selected ques into a familiar pattern in order to “recognize” what they are sensing. Finally, people interpret these recognized patterns in order to understand what they are sensing. This can help people in difficult situations, since they have the past experience and know how to handle their surroundings.

As part of interpersonal communication, Attribution Theory can explain why and how people perceive others. Attribution Theory is most commonly used in social psychology for explaining why people have a difficult time communicating. While you can communicate with others through verbal and non-verbal messages, internal communication can allow misconceptions. These misconceptions can lead to making assumptions as to why people do the things they do.

Fritz Heider, an Australian psychologist, published The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations, which expanded on his creation of Attribution Theory. Attribution Theory is a psychological phenomenon for explaining how people perceive others. The goal of Attribution Theory is to explain how individuals interpret events and how this relates to their future thinking and behavior. The assumption of Attribution Theory is to determine how and why people do the things they do. When a person seeks to understand why another person is acting a certain way, this may attribute one or more causes to that behavior. According to Heider, there are two main ideas of Attribution Theory. The first idea being dispositional attribution (internal attribution), which refers to the tendency of assigning the cause of a certain behavior or action to an internal characteristic, rather than outside forces. This cause of a certain behavior could be personality changes, abilities, or feelings. However, situational attribution (external attribution), is the tendency of blaming the cause of a certain behavior to outside forces instead of international characteristics. This cause of a certain behavior could be caused by unexpected weather changes or situational changes.

Heider’s Attribution Theory has been widely applied in education, law, clinical psychology, and the mental health domain. A fellow colleague, Weiner (1980), states: “Causal attributions determine affective reactions to success and failure. For example, one is not likely to experience pride in success, or feelings of competence, when receiving an ‘A’ from a teacher who gives only that grade, or when defeating a tennis player who always loses…On the other hand, an ‘A’ from a teacher who gives few high grades or a victory over a highly rated tennis player following a great deal of practice generates great positive affect.” (p.362). Students with higher self-esteem tend to attribute success to internal factors, such as luck and ability, while they contribute failure to internal factors such as effort difficultly. For example, students who consistently experience failure while completing a reading assignment are more likely to see themselves as being incompetent in reading. This self-perception of reading ability reflects the children’s expectations of failure while completing the reading assignment.

While Heider was the founder of Attribution Theory, H.H. Kelley’s covariation model is the best-known attribution theory. This model was created for judging whether a particular action should be attributed to a characteristic or the environment, otherwise known as dispositional or situational. Covariation is the information that a person has from multiple observations of this person, at different times and situations, to form an observed effect and its causes. Kelley believes that when people make these hypotheses, we are acting like scientist taking into account three kinds of evidence. The first piece of evidence being consensus, the extent to which other people behave in the same way in a similar situation. The second, distinctiveness, the extent to which the person behaves in the same way in similar situations. Finally, the third, consistency, the extent to which the person behaves like this every time the situation occurs. These methods of evidence help support people attributing causality on the basis of correlation. This can explain why people put two things together, they assume that one causes the other. However, not knowing enough information can cause difficulties when making that kind of judgement. According to Kelley, people fall back on past experiences and look for either multiple necessary causes or multiple sufficient causes. Multiple necessary causes can explain the exact why the situation happened, while multiple sufficient causes can give multiple reasons as to why this situation happened.

In conclusion, Attribution Theory as a part of interpersonal communication can provide and explanation as to how people perceive messages. These messages can include verbal and non-verbal communication and can be helpful when attributing the reason why people are do the things they do.

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