ATTRIBUTION THEORY OF FRITZ HEIDER
This article starts off by a man having his wife serve on a jury in a federal case involving conspiracy, racketeering, drug dealing, armed robbery, and extortion. There were seven defendants and one that escaped from police custody. The key government witness was an ex-gang member named Larry who was called “the Canary” by the defendants because he turned informer. For two months Jean, the wife, listened to Larry’s testimony and tried to figure out whether his account of the incident was credible or not. A question in her mind was that whether his behavior on the stand was that of pathological liar, a rejected pal seeking revenge, a petty crook who would say anything to save his own skin, or and honest witness dedicated to the truth?
All this falls into Fritz Heider’s attribution theory saying that we all tend to rationalize in the same way. Fritz said that the theory of attribution is the process of drawing inferences. This would be seeing a person act and immediately reaching a conclusion that goes beyond mere sensory information. Example: Larry yawns while on the stand. Your immediate conclusive reaction would be “is he bored, afraid, tired, or indifferent”. In the article it says that Heider would see us as naive psychologist bringing common sense to bear on an interpersonal judgment. It also says that we can’t help it to make these judgments. This is because we make personality judgments in order to explain otherwise confusing behavior.
Heider says that there’s another reason for making causal inferences from behavior. The reason is because we want to know what to expect in the future. He says prediction is a survival skill. Example: Jean comes face-to-face with one of the defendants, in her jury trail, outside a train station. Mildly anxious, she quickly turned aside. Accurate attributions can help us know which people might do us harm.
The article also talks about attribution as being a three-step process through which we perceive others as causal agents. The three-step process talked about includes perception of the action (You saw it), judgment of intention (You/they meant to do that), and attribution of disposition (What you think of the action).
To begin, in the case with Jean trying to figure out whether Larry’s story was credible and how to categorize his behavior. In my opinion I would think him turning informer would have been for some type of personal gain whether it be maybe he was in to deep with the gang, he could have been charged with a crime and investigators could have promised him a minor sentencing of some sort, clearing his name as an ex-gang member, or just making him feel good that he did he something to put the criminals away (Which I think would be less likely to be. More like thanking that those ex-gang members of his are out of his face).
The article was interesting but left me with some questions. It was very truth unfolding about things that I never really thought about like when it talked about the common biases in judging intention. All those five examples to me were very true. What was also an eye opening topic was that about the freedom of choice where that we assume that people are responsible for the things that happen to them. This had a lot of truth to it but it jeopardized the thought that some things happen for a certain reason and not that we looked for it to happen. I’m very religious and that brought some controversy with the way I thought about things.
What grabbed my attention a lot were the two topics of self-perception and critique. In my opinion I think people interpret behavior they see by relating it to behavior of their own and what they would do in a circumstance involving the same environment. The wrong thing about that would be that not everybody thinks alike or acts the same if introduced to the same circumstances. An example of that would be saying that everybody acts stupid when they are drunk. Put twenty people in one room get them drunk and see if they all carry out in the same manner.
One thing that I didn’t comprehend was in issue of self-perception where it talked about that conventional wisdom suggests that behavior follows attitude and that it is the other way around that actions precede attitude. The example show is: “I like tennis because I play it” and not “I play tennis because I like it”. I just really didn’t understand that.
I viewed the article as being truth unfolding but with many controversial issues to it. Some of which I didn’t understand. All in all the article served as a good stepping stone in how not to jump to quick judgments or conclusions. Look for adequate evidence or information to seek the right conclusive judgment.
Griffin, Em, McGraw Hill Inc. (1994) A First Look at Communication Theory