Bernard Weiner: Attribution Theory & Overview

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  • 0:03 Attributions
  • 0:38 Bernard Weiner's…
  • 2:23 Dimensions of…
  • 3:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Attribution theory is concerned with how we interpret and understand events and how this can influence the way we think and behave. Learn more about the different dimensions of attribution theory and test your knowledge with a quiz.


Have you ever done something only to ask yourself why you did it in the first place? The way you answer these kinds of questions is dependent upon your belief about what causes a behavior or events. Attributions refer to the process of interpreting the causes for a specific event or behavior. Attributions are part of our attempt at interpreting and understanding our experiences, behaviors, and the behaviors of others. Whenever we ask ourselves why we behaved in a certain way, we are making attributions to our behavior.

Bernard Weiner's Attribution Theory

In the 1970's, Bernard Weiner proposed a theory that looked at how people interpret success and failure. According to Weiner, humans feel the need to explain both success and failure, although this need is more prevalent in situations in which the outcome was not unexpected. We attribute our successes and failures to four things:

  1. Ability: For instance, a person says, 'I have always been a good dancer.'
  2. Effort: The same person says, 'I worked hard and studied those dance moves for hours.'
  3. Task difficulty: The person says, 'Those dance moves were really easy.'
  4. Luck: Such as, 'I was lucky that I was already familiar with those dance moves.'

Our perceptions of why we succeeded or failed influence how we perform tasks in the future. For example, if you received an A on a quiz and attributed it to the amount of effort you put in, you will likely continue to work hard on all of your quizzes to ensure your success. Our perceptions may also influence how we respond to our successes and failures, as well. For example, we may be glad when we pass a quiz and feel upset when we fail.

It is evident from this that our attributes serve as a valuable source of motivation, especially in terms of academic achievement. For example, suppose that a group of freshmen failed a math quiz because their instructor did not cover all the concepts on the test. The freshmen who perceived their failure as being caused by the instructor's inadequate coverage of the material will not have the same level of motivation as those freshmen who perceived their failure as being caused by their own lack of mathematical ability.

Dimensions of Attribution Theory

According to attribution theory, the way in which we explain our success or failure can be classified based on three sets of characteristics:

  1. Locus of control
  2. Stability
  3. Controllability

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