Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

2020 Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford

Internal and External Attributions

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-24612-3_2301



Explanations for behavior that stress something about the person (internal attribution) or something about their environment (external attribution).


Attribution theory examines how people determine the causes of behavior. Many of the dominant conceptualizations within attribution theory focus on how an individual (the social perceiver) understands another person’s (the actor) behavior (Jones and Davis 1965). However, attribution theory also seeks to explain understanding of one’s own behavior. Internal attributions are explanations that stress something about the person, such as their traits, abilities, and physical characteristics. External attributions are explanations that stress environmental or situational factors, such as task difficulty, social influences, and the physical characteristics of a particular environment (Ross 1977).

Fundamental to attribution theory is this “internal-external or disposition-situation...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Campbell, W. K., & Sedikides, C. (1999). Self-threat magnifies the self-serving bias: A meta-analytic integration. Review of General Psychology, 3, 23–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Carter, E. R., & Murphy, M. C. (2017). Consensus and consistency: Exposure to multiple discrimination claims shapes Whites’ intergroup attitudes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 73, 24–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Gilbert, D. T., & Malone, P. S. (1995). The correspondence bias. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 21–38.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Heider, F. (1944). Social perception and phenomenal causality. Psychological Review, 51, 358–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Heider, F., & Simmel, M. (1944). An experimental study of apparent behavior. The American Journal of Psychology, 57, 243–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Howard, J. A. (1985). Further appraisal of correspondent inference theory. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 11, 467–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Jones, E. E., & Davis, K. E. (1965). From acts to dispositions: The attribution process in person perception. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 219–266). New York: Academic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Jones, E. E., & Harris, V. A. (1967). The attribution of attitudes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 3, 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jones, E. E., & McGillis, D. (1976). Correspondent inferences and the attribution cube: A comparative reappraisal. In J. H. Harvey, W. J. Ickes, & R. F. Kidd (Eds.), New directions in attribution research (Vol. 1, pp. 389–420). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  11. Jones, E. E., & Nisbett, R. (1971). The actor and the observer: Divergent perceptions of the causes of behavior. Morristown: General Learning Press.Google Scholar
  12. Kelley, H. H. (1967). Attribution theory in social psychology. In D. Levine (Ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation (Vol. 15, pp. 192–238). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
  13. Kelley, H. H. (1972). Causal schemata and the attribution process. Morristown: General Learning Press.Google Scholar
  14. Kelley, H. H. (1973). The processes of causal attribution. American Psychologist, 28, 107–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Krull, D. S., Loy, M. H.-M., Lin, J., Wang, C.-F., Chen, S., & Zhao, X. (1999). The fundamental fundamental attribution error: Correspondence bias in individualist and collectivist cultures. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1208–1219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Malle, B. F. (2006). The actor-observer asymmetry in attribution: A (surprising) meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 895–919.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Malle, B. F., Knobe, J. M., & Nelson, S. E. (2007). Actor-observer asymmetries in explanations of behavior: New answers to an old question. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 491–514.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. McArthur, L. A. (1972). The how and what of why: Some determinants and consequences of causal attribution. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 22, 171–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Miller, D. T., & Ross, M. (1975). Self-serving biases in the attribution of causality: Fact or fiction? Psychological Bulletin, 82, 213–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Morris, M. W., & Peng, K. (1994). Culture and cause: American and Chinese attributions for social and physical events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 949–971.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Regan, D. T., & Totten, J. (1975). Empathy and attribution: Turning observers into actors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 850–856.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ross, L. (1977). The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 10, pp. 173–220). New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  23. Rudolph, U., Roesch, S. C., Greitemeyer, T., & Weiner, B. (2004). A meta-analytic review of help giving and aggression from an attributional perspective: Contributions to a general theory of motivation. Cognition and Emotion, 18, 815–848.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Weiner, B. (1979). A theory of motivation for some classroom experiences. Journal of Educational Psychology, 71, 3–25.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Weiner, B. (1985). An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion. Psychological Review, 92, 548–573.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Weiner, B. (2010). The development of an attribution-based theory of motivation: A history of ideas. Educational Psychologist, 45, 28–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Central Queensland UniversityAdelaideAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Virgil Zeigler-Hill
    • 1
  1. 1.Oakland UniversityRochesterUSA