The Attribution Theory According to Malle and Heider

© Calvin & Hobbes
 
Attribution theory concerns with how humans interpret situations according to their knowledge, and how those situations relate to them. Humans are more likely to be a natural observer who tends to seek meanings behind what they see, hear, and feel; and supposedly asks for an explanation to satisfy their curiosity. According to Manusov & Spitzberg (2008:38), attributions are as the internal (thinking) and external (talking) process of interpreting and understanding what is behind our own and others’ behaviours. 
 
Attributing is the process of asking and answering “why” questions— trying to figure out what caused something else—that it has been characterized as a basic human activity (Heider, 1958 in Manusov & Spitzberg, 2008:37). This activity requires an individual to interpret based on their knowledge about the situation or about the person that causes the situation. It mirrors how they think, then, the result of their thinking determines their respond to the situation. Furthermore, their respond explains their identity and position in the interaction episode, that whether they are involved or uninvolved, major or minor, etc. Attributions that they give are not yet the real explanation, but only interpretation and/or perception. In the other words, by attributing a situation, and individual is guessing what the meanings and the motives behind. They are seeking answer for “why” and “how” questions by confabbing the state of affairs.
 
After Heider (1958) introduces the attribution theory for the first time with the heading Personal-Impersonal Attribution Theory, conceptualizations seemed to have appeared as a response towards the theory. These conceptualizations counter the theory into three, based on its practiced functions as presented by Manusov & Spitzberg (2008:41-42): 1) Attributions as explanations underlying social actions, including communication behaviours. 2) Attributions as categories of meanings given to communication behaviour. 3) Attributions as the actual meanings given to a behaviour, often in talk.
 
Not only conceptualizations, there are also new theories that appear as an alternative and developed theory of Heider’s. One of them is presented by Malle (2003) with the name of The Folk-Conceptual Theory of Explanation. Heider’s classic theory and Malle’s modern theory will be used in this study to discuss the research topic in order to get a deeper analysis. Each one of them will be answering one research topic.
 
Personal-Impersonal Attribution Theory
 
Heider (1958) is the most cited historical source for personal-impersonal attribution theory, as claimed by Malle (2003:3). His theory lays two fundamental factors of attributing focusing on either person or situation as the responsible causer. When an individual concerns with the person, they give more attention to the person’s personal causality. 
 
Personal causality may be in the form of characteristics, behaviours, motivation, etc. Meanwhile, when an individual concerns with the situation, they take the impersonal causality more into account. Impersonal causality is out of the agent’s control as it is in touch with the unhampered environment. Take this case for an example: Louis is late for his dinner date with Eleanor. Applying person attribution, Eleanor accuses that Louis is late because he is the kind of person who comes late to every occasions, that it is his behavior. Meanwhile using situation attribution, she can tolerate the lateness because Louis suddenly has to take his sister to the hospital before going to the dinner, which is unplanned and provoked by the environment. Eleanor may also combine the two models and presume that Louis didn’t take the time seriously and unexpectedly had to go to hospital first.
 
The Folk-Conceptual Theory of Explanation
 
This theory is an alternative theory suggested by Malle (2003). It comes as an improvement of the previous attribution theories, especially of Heider (1958) and of Kelley’s (1967), and presents more detailed assumptions on attribution as an explanatory approach.
 
The theory suggests that when an explanation perceiver attributes a person or a situation, they psychologically go through a certain process. The process itself has several steps that are such as frame-working through behaviour, which is all about observing the behaviour of an explanation giver, and attributing under psychological processes, which is regarding the process in the explainer’s mind.
 
  • Frame-Working through Behaviour
 
Malle (2003:5) considered the importance of a concept of intentionality, of mental states contrasted with observable behaviours, and of specific mental states such as intentions, beliefs, and desires He suggests that conceptual framework underlies behaviour explanations. First of all, an explanation perceiver receives an action either if it is physically or verbally, then, they observe the behavior of the agent. After observing, they make an assumption towards the action. This assumption is technically the attribution they gives to the agent, which also acts as an explanation.
 
When observing a behavior, the most important thing that a perceiver pays attention to is whether the agent does an action intentionally or unintentionally. Therefore, they need to determine whether something is intentional or unintentional before they can continue to the next step of attributing process. This determination is important in order to result the most correct explanation regarding the action.
 
In order to judge the intentionality of an action, there are five important requirements to be fulfilled, which are skill, awareness, and intension – intension itself must fulfill behavior and desire. If an action does not include all of them, then its action should be considered unintentional.
 
When determining the intention of an action, a perceiver unconsciously also appoints the action into two kinds: causal and reasonable. Specifically, whereas intentional action is explained by reasons, unintentional action is amended by causes.
 
  • Attributing under Psychological Processes 
 
After observing the behaviour of an agent as well as the action they give, there is a psychological process that governs the construction of explanation inside of the mind. The mind rapidly processes what has been observed. The steps of process are as follows 1) features of the behaviour to be explained (e.g., intentionality), 2) pragmatic goals (e.g., impression management), and 3) information resource (e.g., stored information).
 
Behavior evaluation is done in the effort of understanding the way others’ doing and talking. A perceiver observes the agent’s intentionality and background that lead into an action. This quick behavior-checking gives them the knowledge regarding the agent, so that even though they have just met, analyzing the agent’s current behavior is enough to give her the information to call into a respond. 
 
Pragmatic goals measurement is the process of setting goals by uttering a certain attribution. Interacting with other characters in a communicative context enables a perceiver to accomplish several things in order to get closer to their objective plans. There are at least three goals that a perceiver reaches out through their attributions, which are to lessen another person’s confusion, manage her own status in the situation, and fend off blame.
 
Information demanding is needed to make sure that the attributions a perceiver gives are correct. It requires a verbally and physically observation regarding the agent’s further information. Previously in the Behavior Evaluation, a perceiver needs to pay attention to the behavior, whereas in the Information Demanding, common verbal and physical – something that can be listened and seen – are the objects.