Attribution Theory and the Principle of Locus of Control

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  • 0:30 Attribution Theory and Model
  • 4:05 Attributions Communicated
  • 5:19 Attributional Biases
  • 7:05 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Hurst
What do you attribute your successes or failures to? Do you feel like luck and chance are involved, or do you feel like you're in control of your achievements and behavior? This lesson will provide you with an overview of attribution theory and the principles of locus of control.

Attribution Theory and Model

'An F! How could I make an F? Oh, that professor hates me! Maybe it was because I didn't get enough sleep last night? This information is just too hard! I'll never get it!' Does this sound like you? What do you attribute your successes and failures to?

Attributions are the perceived causes that individuals select or construct for events in their lives. A basic assumption of attribution theory is that a person's understanding of the causes of past events influences his or her future actions.

The psychologist Bernard Weiner developed an attribution theory that mainly focuses on achievement. According to Weiner, the most important factors affecting attributions are ability, effort, task difficulty and luck. He classified attributions along three causal dimensions. First is locus of control, where there are two poles: an internal locus versus an external locus. Next is stability - do causes change over time or not? Finally, there's controllability - the causes one can control, such as skills, versus causes one cannot control, such as luck and others' actions.

Weiner focuses on achievement in his attribution theory
Bernard Weiner Picture

There's a lot of information here, so let's take it dimension by dimension. Stability refers to how likely it is the probability of causes will change over time. For example, Allison failed her math test, but she attributed this failure to lack of sleep the night before. Allison might consider this situation unstable because the attributed cause - fatigue - would likely change in the future. Stability is directly related to one's expectancy for success.

Next, let's look at locus of control. This refers to one's belief that his or her behavior is guided by external factors, such as luck, fate, etc., or internal factors, such as ability and effort. The importance of an attribution that is internal, for example, is the influence on self-esteem. Success attributed to an internal cause (the person) is a source of pride. However, failure attributed to an internal cause is a source of disappointment. Success attributed to ability and/or effort is a source of pride because both ability and effort are internal attributions.

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