Internal Attribution: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 Attributions
  • 0:56 External Attributions
  • 1:41 Internal Attributions
  • 2:57 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.

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

Making Attributions

Suppose that you were driving along a freeway on a rainy day. The water builds up around your tires and you start to aquaplane. You lose control of your vehicle and veer off into the grass where your car comes to a halt. Though no one is hurt, you begin to worry and ask yourself why did this happen to you. Your interpretation of the cause of this event is dependent upon the attributions that you make.


So what are attributions? Attributions refer to inferences that you make regarding what caused an event or behavior. Attributions are your attempt at understanding your experiences, behaviors, and the behaviors of others. When a parent asks a child why he or she behaved in a certain way, the parent is making attributions to the child's behavior. There are two types of attributions: internal and external.

External Attributions

When we use external attributions, we infer that a person is behaving in a certain way or that an event is due to the situation that they are in. There is the assumption that given the same situation, others would most likely respond in the exact same way. Because of its dependence on situational factors, external attribution is also called 'situational attribution.'

Suppose that you tried to explain your car situation to the tow truck driver using external attributions. You would explain to him that the amount of water on the roads caused your tires to lose traction. You would likely blame the rain and the age of your tires as the reasons that you were stranded in the grass.

Internal Attributions

When we use internal attributions, we infer that a person is behaving in a certain way or that an event is due to factors related to the person. These factors include things such as:

  • Traits
  • Abilities
  • Feelings
  • Attitudes

The assumption here is that the individual is directly to blame for the event or behavior. Another term for internal attribution is dispositional attribution.

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