Attribution Theory Applications in Organizations: Definition & Examples

Lesson Transcript
Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Expert Contributor
Joseph Shinn

Joe has a PhD in Economics from Temple University and has been teaching college-level courses for 10 years.

In organizations, managers can better understand the causes of employee behavior using attribution theory applications. Understand the definition of attribution theory and why it is important, explore the 3-stage process and examples of attribution theory. Updated: 09/09/2021

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.

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Centralization: Fayol's Principle, Overview

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Why Is Attribution…
  • 0:52 3-Stage Process
  • 3:00 Example
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

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.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Additional Activities

Additional Questions

  1. What is attribution theory? In particular, explain how this theory is a behavior science.
  2. Your current job is to oversee a sales team. Your boss calls you into her office one day and discusses a potential incentive program for your employees in order to get them to work harder and she wants your input. Explain how attribution theory is especially important in being able to make recommendations to your boss about what program or programs might work best.
  3. Discuss the importance of intent when trying to understand an employee's negative behavior.
  4. One of your co-workers has recently been slacking off at work and does not seem to be at his highest production level. He mentions that he is currently going through a divorce, which is causing him to be easily distracted. Is the cause of this lack of production internal or external? Your answer should discuss the difference between internal causes and external causes.
  5. A recent promotion recently came up at your job and all of your employees that are interested in the promotion have been working hard and being extremely nice since the job was announced. Why is it important to know if these behaviors are consistent or distinctive? Your answer should discuss the difference between consistent behaviors and distinctive behaviors.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account