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attribution theorya collection of theories, originating in the work of F. Heider (The Psychology ofInterpersonal Relations, 1958), which seek to explain how people attribute causes to others’ and their own behaviour.
A distinction is made between internal or dispositional causes, located within the individual, e.g. ‘she failed the exam because she is lazy’, and external or situational causes, e.g. ‘he was late for work because of the traffic jam’. Attributional errors are made when we favour dispositional over situational explanations (the fundamental attribution error). We are also more likely, with regard to our own behaviour, to make a dispositional attribution for success and a situational attribution for failure (the self-serving bias). Attribution theory provides a useful framework for the analysis of everyday explanations of social issues such as unemployment, criminality, and health and illness-related behaviours.