Existential Versus Causal Attributions: The Social Perceiver as Philosopher

  • Paul T. P. Wong
Part of the Recent Research in Psychology book series (PSYCHOLOGY)


During my sabbatical leave at UCLA, Bernie Weiner and I collaborated on a number of studies on spontaneous attributions. The paradigm we employed was rather straightforward. Inasmuch as attributions are answers to “why” questions, we simply asked subjects to write down the questions or thoughts that came to their minds in various achievement situations. We wanted to find out when people ask why questions. We were also interested in the temporal process and the heuristics of attributional search. This series of studies was later published (Wong & Weiner, 1981). The main finding is that given an unexpected or a negative outcome, individuals tend to ask the following three types of questions:
  1. (1)

    Attributional - The subjects ask themselves what causes the outcome. They entertain various hypotheses in their causal search, such as Did I study enough? Do I have the ability to do well? Is the exam too difficult? Is the instructor a hard marker?

  2. (2)

    Coping Appraisal - In the case of an undesirable outcome, individuals also assess their coping resources and consider possible courses of action. They ask such question as What can I do to improve my grade? Should I talk to the instructor? Who will give me some help on this subject?

  3. (3)

    Re-evaluation - for wanting of a better label, the term re-evaluation was used to classify questions which re-examine the value or purpose of pursuing university education. This type of questions includes What am I doing here? What is the value of a university degree? Is it worth my while to spend a few years of my life in university?



Chinese Student Causal Attribution Achievement Motivation Personal Meaning Attribution Theory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul T. P. Wong
    • 1
  1. 1.Trent University and University of TorontoCanada

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