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Situational Attribution: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Attribution?
  • 1:35 What Is Situational…
  • 2:51 Examples
  • 4:12 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.

In this lesson, we will discuss situational attribution. Learn all about situational attribution from examples. Then test what you have learned with a quiz.

What Is Attribution?

John is a high school honors student on the verge of graduating. Like many high school seniors, John takes a college readiness exam. He hopes that his scores are high enough to get him into his top choice for college. Upon receiving his scores, John discovers that he performed poorly on the exam. His scores are below the minimum cutoff criteria for entrance into his top college choice.

When asked by his counselor why he thinks he did so poorly, John stated that the testing environment was full of distractions like a ticking clock, the room was very hot, and his pencil kept breaking. John reasoned that any person in the exact same situation would have performed poorly. John used situational attribution to explain his performance on the test.

Attributions are our explanations for what caused an event or behavior. Attributions help us make sense of our experiences and our world. Making attributions helps us learn how to relate to other people and things. For example, if we believe that John is able to keep a secret because he is a loyal person, we are more likely to share our secrets with him.

Attributions also help us to predict future outcomes and behaviors. For example, if John cries every time he hears a certain song, and we attribute his crying to hearing the song, then we can predict that in the future, John will continue to cry every time he hears it. It is important to note that attributions are not concerned with actual causes of events, but with what we perceive as the causes. So what types of causes are there?

What Is Situational Attribution?

There are two different types of attributions that we tend to make. Dispositional attributions, also known as internal attributions, are when we believe that an event or behavior is caused by some internal factor, like traits, skills, or personality. Let's think back to John and the college entrance exam. If John had stated that he failed the test because he was not a good student and he did not try his best, he would be using internal attributions.

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