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Suicide and Fundamental Attribution Theory Proposal


Plenty of people consider it sometimes quite difficult to understand others’ motives, intentions, and behaviors that lead to misunderstanding. The theory of the fundamental attribution asserts that in social situations, the following sequence is noted: a person observes the behavior of another person, makes a logical conclusion about the intentions of this person based on perceived actions and then assigns to him or her some hidden motives that are consistent with this behavior.

This paper proposes the study of the attribution theory in relation to suicide, focusing on the qualitative research method and young people as the target population. The random sampling method will be used to ensure that every respondent will have an equal opportunity to be involved in the study. NVivo version 10 will be applied to analyze the collected data.


The fundamental attribution theory considers the effects of perception, through which people assess the behaviors of others. Behavior may be related to either internal causes or external ones, and it is not always clear which motives may drive a person’s actions and reactions. For example, a person may feel sick, and as a result, he or she may behave aggressively in a way that reflects the external cause. In the case where the person’s character lends itself to aggressive behavior, it is an internal cause. This paper will propose the importance of exploring the fundamental attribution theory with regard to suicide, providing a review of key concepts, a literature review, and a methodology for a future study.

Literature Review

Essentials of Fundamental Attribution Theory

The behavior of others and the inability to properly understand and adequately respond can often cause serious psychological problems. Lankford (2013) stated that internal causes are called dispositional attribution, while external ones compose situational attribution. Most often, people attribute the reasons for the behavior of other people to internal traits.

The search for the causes of others’ failures and bad behavior is usually attributed to features of their personality. If people are attractive and lucky, the reasons for their success are typically attributed to the favorable circumstances of the external environment (Funder, 2014). This is a fundamental attribution error (FAE). On the other hand, if a person experiences failure, he or she is inclined to align it with circumstances. If a person succeeds, he or she tends to consider it as a merit of his or her personality. This is the motivational error of attribution.

Bandura pays attention to the fact that people can also learn in the absence of external reinforcement yet as a result of observation, reading, or receiving information about the behavior of other people (the cognitive component) (Funder, 2014). As noted by Clinkenbeard (2012), the fundamental attribution theory assumes that “people judge situations through making attributions to three dimensions of the cause: locus (the cause is located internal vs. external), stability (if the cause changes during a period of time), and controllability (the level of control of the cause)” (p. 628). Moreover, the author asserted that people differ from each other in the way they assess the role of external and internal factors in their behavior. The internal factors are given more importance by the internalities, and external, by externalities.

Suicide and Attribution

Suicide is willful self-harm with a fatal outcome that is inherent exclusively in humans and occurs in all cultures, especially as a popular act of performance in some youth subcultures. People who decide to commit suicide usually suffer from severe mental pain and are in a state of stress caused by the impossibility of coping with their problems. According to data provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is one of the twenty key causes of mortality worldwide, taking the lives of one million people annually. At least one suicide occurs every forty seconds.

Schneidman, an American psychologist who is regarded as the pioneer of the contemporary theory of suicide, describes several of the most serious characteristics of suicide, as noted by Lankford (2013). This includes a feeling of unbearable heartache, a sense of isolation from society, a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, and the view that death is the only way to solve all problems. Studies related to the manner of processing information by a person emphasize the role of so-called inflexible thinking (for example, life is terrible, and a reasonable alternative to it is death), which leads to the ostensible impossibility of working on solutions to problems.

Many studies have indicated that suicide symbolizes a cry for help as well as an effort to draw attention to an individual’s problems. Among the primary reasons that lead to suicidal behavior may be an unconstructive way out of a crisis. A lack of basic trust in the world, social pessimism, a negative attitude toward the surrounding world, the perception of the world as hostile, and inadequate perception of one’s relationships with others are the characteristic attributive features of suicide and suicidal ideation. In addition, expressing an extra-punitive style of causal attribution and internal monolog such as “you are all unworthy me” makes it possible to establish a connection between suicide and the fundamental attribution theory.

According to the sociological theory of suicide by Durkheim (2013), suicidal thoughts appear primarily as a result of the rupture of the interpersonal connections of an individual and subsequent alienation from the social group to which he or she belongs. According to this view, there are three main types of suicide. The first type reflects that many acts of suicide are selfish, and self-destruction in these cases occurs due to the fact that a person feels alienated and isolated from society: family, friends, or any other group. The second type, anomic suicide, is usually caused by a person’s failure to adapt to changes in society, leading to a disruption of the relationship between the individual and a social group.

The above type of suicide greatly increases during socio-economic crises but persists even during periods of social prosperity, when a rapid increase in well-being may cause the need to adapt to the new and the different from previous conditions of life. Durkheim (2013) identifies the last type of suicide as altruistic. This is suicide that is committed by a person in response to the authority of a society or group suppressing his or her own ego-identity, and he sacrifices himself or herself for the good of society or for the sake of some social, religious, or philosophical idea.

There is some evidence that the dissemination of facts regarding suicides of famous people can serve as a trigger for the suicides of others, especially among individuals aged between 13 to 21 years. Taking into account that young people have access to the internet and news portals, it becomes easy for them to learn about such suicides. In particular, it is important not to draw attention to news about a celebrity suicide in educational institutions; the alternative is to risk appearing to support suicide as a new, popular trend and an ordinary way to avoid problems.

The research questions to be answered in the proposed study are as follows:

Research Question 1. What are the key attributive points related to suicide?

Research Question 2. How is it possible to identify whether a person is prone to suicide, focusing on the fundamental attributive theory?

Based on the research questions, the hypothesis is that the level of awareness of the problem and attitudes of the population can significantly improve the current situation.


The fundamental attribution error (FAE) tendency will be explored to identify suicidal ideation in young people. The study aims to focus on a structural-functional theoretical framework that was elaborated by Durkheim and helps in understanding the social system by explaining its important elements (Funder et al., 2014). Within the above framework, it is possible to describe why a person acts in a certain way or why people engage in certain relations and perform the actions they do. A researcher’s stance is to carefully specify all the concepts and tendencies and to relate the study results to the existing evidence. The true experimental study design will be used for the proposed research.


Considering that the proposed study aims at the assessment of the behaviors of young people, participants will include adults between 18 and 26 years who are interested in participating in the project. In particular, the participants are to be invited through a series of advertisements using social networks. Young people of differing gender, ethnicity, and culture will be interviewed regarding their approaches to explaining the so-called bad days. In general, it seems appropriate to interview approximately 60 people and that a smaller number of interviewees would contribute to erroneous findings.

The potential respondents will be offered the opportunity to join the study voluntarily. The participants will be asked to participate in individual 30-minute semi-structured video interviews revealing their perceptions regarding the theme. This will be performed via random sampling of online community members with the help of Skype software. The interviews will be digitally recorded using an audio device and then transcribed. The participants will be divided into two groups: control and experimental.

Data Collection

The data type to be collected to test the hypothesis will focus on demographic questionnaires and video interviews. The proposed study will use the simple random sampling technique for the purpose of identifying the number of interviewees to be included in the sample. The rationale for the choice of the simple random sampling technique is based on the fact that such an approach is suitable for ensuring inclusivity in the study sample. More to the point, Funder et al. (2014) claimed that the use of the random sampling technique is appropriate due to the fact that it provides study units and people with an equal chance of being involved in the study sample.

The reliability of the results will be ensured by the adequacy of the methods used, the representativeness of the sample, the mutual verification of the results obtained by different methods, and the statistical processing of the findings of the study. No personal information will be collected, either in written notes or on the audio recordings. Furthermore, no other data such as observations or artifacts will be taken from the participants. No deception of any kind will be used, and the participants will have full knowledge of the purpose of the research in advance.

Data Analysis

Data will be processed and organized properly to analyze the collected qualitative data. In particular, typical responses will be grouped according to the issues raised in the course of interviews. The data will be coded based on themes stated in the research questions. Data will be processed and organized using NVivo version 10, which helps to analyze qualitative data (Funder et al., 2014) and allows the researcher to group typical responses and discover themes raised in interview data.

The data analysis will help to specify possible changes and will either support or refute the anticipated outcomes that can be discussed with a reasonable degree of reliability. The findings of the proposed study will be interpreted and presented to readers, supported by all necessary comments, tables, and diagrams to create visibility and make the research more comprehensible.

Expected Results

It is expected that the prospective study would contribute to an increased awareness of the problem among the population and attract the attention of social agencies to the problem that, in turn, is likely to lead to the establishment of adequate measures and improvement of the current situation. The research questions are to be clearly answered and are expected to reveal what is being studied in detail. As for limitations, it should be noted that the fact the research includes a part of the online community cannot be overgeneralized to the whole country, yet some appropriate conclusions can be drawn, and some implications can be identified. In other words, the results of the study would be sufficient and credible enough to be generalized to the broader understanding of the problem.


Clinkenbeard, P. R. (2012). Motivation and gifted students: Implications of theory and research. Psychology in the Schools, 49(7), 622-630.

Durkheim, E. (2013). The rules of sociological method: Selected texts on sociology and its method. New York, NY: Free Press.

Funder, D. C. (2014). Weighing dispositional and situational factors in accounting for suicide terrorism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(4), 367-368.

Funder, D. C., Levine, J. M., Mackie, D. M., Morf, C. C., Sansone, C., Vazire, S., & West, S. G. (2014). Improving the dependability of research in personality and social psychology: Recommendations for research and educational practice. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18(1), 3-12.

Lankford, A. (2013). The myth of martyrdom: What really drives suicide bombers, rampage shooters, and other self-destructive killers. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

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"Suicide and Fundamental Attribution Theory." IvyPanda, 6 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/suicide-and-fundamental-attribution-theory/.

1. IvyPanda. "Suicide and Fundamental Attribution Theory." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/suicide-and-fundamental-attribution-theory/.


IvyPanda. "Suicide and Fundamental Attribution Theory." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/suicide-and-fundamental-attribution-theory/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Suicide and Fundamental Attribution Theory." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/suicide-and-fundamental-attribution-theory/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Suicide and Fundamental Attribution Theory'. 6 September.

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