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Social Psychology and Self-attribution Research Paper


Self attribution can be summed up as a means of attributing or explaining one’s own behavior and its potential outcome through perception and evaluation. Such a method of examination proposes that the attribution an individual makes about a particular event or outcome is based on internal or external factors (Reich & Arkin, 2006). In the case of internal factors this is defined as the intrinsic personal factors that influence a individuals behavior such as their feelings, behavioral traits, cognitive abilities, etc.

Thus, when an when an individual is attempting to determine what are the antecedents and resulting consequences of their behavior they conduct an examination of such traits either through external observations made by other people or through memory this is due to the fact that people in general do not have “access” so to speak to their internal states and, as such, need to infer such traits through observations or an examination of the context of the situations in which such behavioral traits arise.

Schütz-Bosbach et al. (2009) explains that internal attribution focuses on the internal factors that influence external behavior resulting in a particular outcome. For example, individuals with anger management issues usually have an outcome where they lash out and attempt to vent their anger through some physical or verbal means (i.e. punching something or shouting at a particular individual).

While on the other end of the spectrum, people who have emotional traumas, autism and a variety of other traits that cause reserved behavior usually have an outcome where they are socially reserved, quiet and rarely, if ever, act out. In the case of external attribution, instead of intrinsic factors being the case behind an individual’s behavior, the origin is instead placed on extrinsic situational factors.

For example, a particular person can be normally calm and collected at home, however, due to his/her stressful workplace environment he/she is normally angry, annoyed and regularly irritated at work with the outcome of external physical or psychological outbursts.

This is not to say that such an individual is like this intrinsically, rather, their workplace environment is what influences them to act in this particular fashion. Thus, when making an assessment regarding the behavior and actions of either yourself or another individual, self-attribution focuses on the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence behaviors.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance can be described as an intrinsic drive to harmonize attitudes and beliefs and avoid instances of disharmony that are brought in through intrinsic or extrinsic factors by harmonizing the changes into a viewpoint that is more acceptable to the behavioral disposition of a particular individual (Antoniou et al., 2013).

Basically, it can be stated that all individuals seek a certain degree of consistency in their attitudes and inherent beliefs and attempt to harmonize them when two cognitions that are presented are inconsistent (Averill et al., 1978). It should be noted though that the need to maintain cognitive consistency is so great that it can actually result in the implementation of irrational or even maladaptive behavior which cannot be considered logical.

One example of this can be seen in the case of smokers and alcoholics who know that their behavior of smoking and drinking is harmful to them (i.e. the cognition) however they continue to smoke and drink justifying it as either them being the exception or that it is not harmful to them since they are doing it “the right way”. Another example of this can be seen in the case of the gay rights movement and its increasing acceptance within the current global community.

Initially, being gay (at within our society in the past 100 years) was viewed as being strange, unknown and therefore resulted in an initial level of tension and resistance (the dissonance). (Gawronski, 2012) who explained that it is often the case that humans in general tend to fear the unknown and as a result react negatively and at times violently to such external threats towards what they consider normal.

Such actions can be characterized as the considerable level of hate and malice directed at the gay community during the early 1960s till 2005 where acceptance of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transsexual) community was still not prevalent. It was only when being gay was categorized, labeled and understood that it stopped being the unknown and became more “known” so to speak.

Resolving the dissonance in this particular case focused on the issue of human rights rather than the fact that the behavior was far from the social norm or was reproductively unfeasible. As such, the cognitive consistency in this case focused on the preservation of universal human rights which resulted in the behavior being deemed more acceptable rather than the concept of being gay being incorporated into the sociological and biological norm.

This is not to say that being part of the LGBT community is in anyway bad or wrong, rather, the acceptance should have had its basis on sufficient sociological integration instead of being based on the law. The end result is indicative of cognitive dissonance at work due to the method of resolving the issue which can deemed of as far from what should have been the rational norm.

Nature and Nurture

The nature and nurture debate is concerned with the differences in inherent or external factors affecting how a child develops. Basically, the concept of “nature” refers to how an individual is inherently and how internal facilitators (i.e. attitude, behavior, emotions etc.) are the primary means by which a child develops with external factors taking a secondary role.

Nurture on the other hand focuses on external factors related to a child’s environment, the method in which they are cared for by their parents and other external factors which are supposedly the primary means by which a child develops with internal factors taking a secondary role. In the case of self-attribution, the nature versus nurture debate extends to how an individual interprets the way that they act based on a focus on intrinsic or extrinsic factors.

As mentioned earlier, self-attribution focuses on internal and external facilitators to interpret one’s own actions and, as such, when it comes to nature versus nurture affecting self-attribution an individual may attribute their actions to the manner in which their external environment has been the primary method behind their emotional or cognitive development resulting in them performing particular actions or they focus on internal factors such as their own inherent behavioral profile and cognitive state to answer why they act in a particular fashion.

This affects cognitive development due to the manner in which an individual determines which factors influence their behavior.

For example, in the case of a child learning in school this takes the form of the external environment (i.e. the teacher, the teaching method, their parents etc.) as being their primary influence to perform (which is external and thus focuses on the concept of nurture) or the desire to learn and perform could originate from interest and fascination in a subject (which is internal and thus focuses on nature).

Through Blondal and Adalbjarnardottir (2009) it can be seen that an international consensus has evolved among educators that parents, through various active participation strategies, make a major contribution to their children’s education. Blondal and Adalbjarnardottir (2009) have demonstrated that parental involvement has a positive outcome on a child’s social and academic success.

Students are able to achieve better comprehension skills, have better attendance, and display minimal behavior problems when parents are involved in their education. Suarez-Orazco et al. (2010) observed, “Parents’ involvement in their children’s schooling, both at home (e.g., homework assistance) and at the child’s school (e.g., parent-teacher conference attendance), has been linked, among other indicators, with higher student test scores, lower drop-out rates, and fewer disciplinary infractions”.

Campbell and Verna (2007) determined that students undergo myriad distinctive challenges while adapting to the school environment, placing them at particular educational risk. Based on this it can be seen that external factors do have an impact on a student’s ability to learn and, as such, is evidence for the nurture argument in which it can be stated that an individual would perceive the origin of their actions as being extrinsically related.

On the other end of the spectrum, it can also be stated that an individual can attribute the source of their actions to the nature side of the debate due to their intrinsic desire to learn and do better.

Based on such arguments, it can be stated that the nature versus nurture debate and its use in self-attribution can be utilized as a means of determining whether the external environment or an individual’s own internal persona resulted in the creation of particular actions. Such a method of evaluation can be done by determining which factor facilitated a particular action and whether or not it was an important facilitator.

Resolving Cognitive Dissonance

Individuals are interested in resolving cognitive dissonance due to their need for a certain degree of consistency in their attitudes and inherent beliefs and attempt to harmonize them when two cognitions that are presented are inconsistent.

This means that when they are presented with a situation that creates a certain level of dissonance with their beliefs and attitudes; they attempt to resolve it through any manner possible to prevent the dissonance and create a calm and more “rational” state of mind despite the solution possibly being irrational. One example of this is the desire for most people to live, yet some people smoke which would lead to their deaths.

These individual’s rationalize their actions by stating that smoking helps to calm them down which in their mind rationalizes their behavior for them yet smoking will still kill them in the end. This is related to self-attribution since people may attempt to rationalize their actions by self-attributing them by making a false attribution. This shows that self-attribution has the potential for considerable flaws and, as such, should not be considered a 100% accurate method of examination.

Reference List

Antoniou, C., Doukas, J. A., & Subrahmanyam, A. (2013). Cognitive Dissonance, Sentiment, and Momentum. Journal Of Financial & Quantitative Analysis, 48(1), 245-275.

Averill, J. R., DeWitt, G. W., & Zimmer, M. (1978). The self-attribution of emotion as a function of success and failure. Journal Of Personality, 46(2), 323.

Blondal, K. S., & Adalbjarnardottir, S. (2009). Parenting practices and school dropout: A longitudinal study. Adolescence, 44(176), 729-749. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier Database.

Campbell, J. R., & Verna, M. A. (2007). Effective parental influence: Academic climate linked to children’s achievement. Educational Research & Evaluation, 13(6), 501-519. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier Database.

Gawronski, B. (2012). Back to the Future of Dissonance Theory: Cognitive Consistency as a Core Motive. Social Cognition, 30(6), 652-668

Reich, D. A., & Arkin, R. M. (2006). Self-doubt, attributions, and the perceived implicit theories of others. Self & Identity, 5(2), 89-109.

Schütz-Bosbach, S., Avenanti, A., Aglioti, S., & Haggard, P. (2009). Don’t Do It! Cortical Inhibition and Self-attribution during Action Observation. Journal Of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21(6), 1215-1227.

Suarez-Orozco, C., Onaga, M., & de Lardemelle, C. (2010). Promoting academic engagement among immigrant adolescents through school-family-community collaboration. Professional School Counseling, 14(1), 15-26, Retrieved from Academic Search Premier Database.

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