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External Attribution: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Defining Attribution
  • 0:49 Internal Attribution
  • 1:38 External Attribution
  • 2:30 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.

External attribution refers to inferring that situational factors are the cause of an event or behavior. Learn more about external attribution from examples, and then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Defining Attribution

Suppose that you received an invite from one of your friends to attend a party. The party starts at 10:00 p.m. Even though you have to be up at 8:00 in the morning, you decide to go to the party. You enjoy yourself and lose track of time. When you get home, it is well after 3:00 a.m. The following morning, you're two hours late to work. Your boss is furious and asks you why you're late. Your way of explaining this to your boss is dependent on the way in which you attribute your behavior.

Attribution is a term used to describe the process of interpreting the causes for a person's behavior or an event. We make attributions as an attempt to interpret and understand our own experiences and behaviors, as well as those of others. When your boss asks you why you are late, he is trying to make attributions for your behavior. Attributions can be divided into two categories: external and internal.

Internal Attribution

Internal attribution, also referred to as dispositional attribution, refers to interpreting an event or behavior as being caused by factors that are related to the individual. These factors include personality traits, individual characteristics, emotions and abilities. When we use internal attribution, we assume that the individual has direct control over the behavior or event and is therefore responsible for what happened.

Suppose that in our earlier example, you used internal attribution to explain to your boss why you were late. You might explain to him that because you love parties and have trouble saying no to your friends, you went out late last night even though you knew you had to work. You should have made sure that your alarm was set, but you were careless and forgot to check it when you got in. You might also explain that you were very tired and just could not make yourself move this morning.

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