Cultural Differences in Attributional Patterns

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  • 0:06 Attributional Patterns
  • 1:32 Individualistic Cultures
  • 2:49 Collectivistic Cultures
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
Why do people act the way they do? There are many factors. In this lesson, we discuss how cultural differences can determine attributional patterns. We define internal and external attributions and discuss the attributional tendencies of individualistic cultures compared to collectivistic cultures.

Attributional Patterns

Imagine that Little Red Riding Hood is walking along a forest path when, all of a sudden, she stomps hard on the single flower growing on the side of the path. She stomps and stomps until nothing of the flower is left. Why do you think she would do this?

Every day, we form judgments about the behavior of others in an effort to determine the reason behind the person's actions. An internal attribution is when a behavior is attributed to internal or personal factors. It's also known as a dispositional attribution, because it is when we assume that a person's disposition is the reason for their behavior. An external attribution is when a behavior is attributed to external factors. It's also known as a situational attribution, because we assume that the situation the person is in is affecting his or her behavior.

The difference between these two types of attributions are extremely important to attribution theory, which we discuss in detail in several other lessons. The focus of this lesson is to understand what attribution theory proposes regarding the attributional tendencies between cultures - in particular, the difference between individualistic and collectivistic cultures.

Individualistic Cultures

People from individualistic cultures tend to give internal attributions for behavior.
Internal Attributions

Let's start by talking about individualistic cultures, which value independence and define individuals in terms of their unique attributes. These cultures are typically found in North America (yes, the United States is definitely one) and Western Europe. Research has shown that the values and norms of individualistic cultures have a great impact on the type of attributions that are likely to be made. Specifically, members of individualistic cultures tend to use internal attributions to explain behavior. In other words, when we see people act a certain way, we tend to assume that their behavior is driven by their personality and not the situation.

Picture Little Red Riding Hood again. Her flower-stomping behavior probably seemed pretty bizarre. You might think that she's crazy or angry or that she detests flowers. At least, that's probably what you would think right away if you were from an individualistic culture. You would be likely to initially make those internal attributions automatically, without examining more of the situation first.

Collectivistic Cultures

People from collectivistic cultures tend to give external attributions for behavior.
External Attributions

In stark contrast to individualistic cultures are collectivistic cultures, which value interdependence and conformity and define individuals in terms of their group memberships. These cultures are typically found in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The values and norms of these cultures are very different than the individualistic ways of cultures like ours. So, unsurprisingly, members of collectivistic cultures tend to use external attributions to explain behavior. In other words, when they see someone act a certain way, they are more likely to assume that the person is driven by the situation, instead of personal characteristics.

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