Attribution Theory Applications in Organizations: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Why Is Attribution…
  • 0:52 3-Stage Process
  • 3:00 Example
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
Attribution theory is a psychological theory that attempts to explain behavior and can be quite useful in the management of organizations. In this lesson, you will learn what attribution theory is, some of its key concepts and will be provided some examples. You will also be given an opportunity to reinforce your knowledge with a short quiz after the lesson.

Why Is Attribution Theory Important?

Attribution theory is important for organizations because it can help managers understand some of the causes of employee behavior and can assist employees in understanding their thinking about their own behaviors. If you can understand why you behave a certain way, and why others around you do so, then you have a better understanding of yourself, others, and your organization. The perception of the causes of a certain behavior may affect the judgment and actions of both managers and employees. It may also play a significant role in motivation.

Attribution theory attempts to explain some of the causes of our behavior. According to the theory, you want to be able to understand the reason for the actions you take and understand the reasons behind the actions other people take. You want to attribute causes to these behaviors, which should give you some felling of control over your own behaviors and related situations.

3-Stage Process

Attributing behavior is a 3-stage process:

  1. You must observe the behavior, whether it is your own behavior or the behavior of someone else.
  2. You must determine whether the behavior being observed is intentional.
  3. You attribute the observed behavior.

When we attribute the behavior, there are three things we need to consider:

1. External cause or internal cause?

Internal cause: Internal causes are those factors that are attributed to the person being observed. Internal causes are usually controllable. For example, a co-worker just received a promotion. You believe the reason for her promotion was her hard work, dedication, and skills. You have thus attributed internal causes to her promotion.

External cause: External causes are attributed to factors outside of the person being observed. External causes are often not controllable, such as luck. For example, let's say your co-worker just received a promotion. You believe she received her promotion because the owner of the company is her father. You have attributed an external factor as the cause of her promotion.

2. Consistent or distinctive behavior?

When you observe a person behaving the same when he is faced with the same circumstances, the observed behavior is consistent. Consistency is low if the person behaves differently in similar circumstances, while it is high if the person acts the same in similar circumstances.

When you are determining whether a person behaves the same way in different circumstances, you are determining whether the behavior is distinctive. If a person behaves the same in different circumstances, then distinctiveness is low, while if the person behaves different in different circumstances, distinctiveness is high.

3). Consensus

Consensus is high if other people act the same way as the person observed in the same circumstances, while consensus is low if other people act differently than the person observed in the same circumstances.


Let's say you are a manager at a car manufacturing company, and you are in charge of the welding operations on the assembly line. Tracey is a welder on the line who has been working for the company for a little over three months. She has been holding the line up ever since the start of her employment.

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