Sample Article Review Paper Attribution Theory

Attribution Theory

As explained by Hutchison (2013), attribution theory is a typical psychological concept that attempt to explain how people interpret and relate events to their thinking and behavior. It tries to explain how people use their motives to contract the meaning of events. It considers how individuals attempt to make sense of their surrounding environment. It was the brainchild of a psychologist known as Heider in 1958. Heider stated that individuals have strong urge to understand the causes and effects of events in their lives. In this theory, the term attribution is used to refer to the perceived causes.


This theory serves the purpose of achieving cognitive control over an individual’s environment. It also purposes to understand and explain the cause and effects of behaviors and actions.

Types of attribution

There are two types of attribution namely (1) external attribution and (2) interpersonal attribution. Also called situational attribution, the former type refers to the interpretation of individual’s behavior as caused by the circumstance or situation where the individual is in. A good example is when an individual blames his car tire puncture on the poor condition of the road. The latter type uses one’s cause of action or motive as the cause of the event. In essence, interpersonal attribution occurs when two or more people are involved in the event. Graham and Folkes (2014) illustrated that people make attributions give predictability and order in their lives.

Core Assumptions

The primary assumption made by attribution theory is that people always try to determine why they do what they do. Another assumption is that a person can only attribute a person’s behavior to either internal attribution or external attribution. Heider assumed that human attributions were driven majorly by motivational and emotional driving factors. People always tend to blame others as a means of avoiding personal recrimination.

The attribution process

People have a tendency to interpret causes of events as well as behaviors. This attribution process goes through three stages. In the first stage, the behavior is observed or perceived. The second stage is the intentional determination of behavior. In the last stage, the behavior is attributed to either external or internal causes. The primary focus of attribution theory is an achievement. Attribution process is influenced by several factors. According to Martinko, Harvey and Dasborough (2011), the most important factors influencing this process are task difficulty, efforts, luck, and ability. These four factors determine various elements of the individual’s behavior depending on where they are placed on the attribution matrix. For instance, they determine the individual’s pride, shame, as well as the expectation of performance among others. Below is a simple attribution matrix.


Stable Unstable
Control Internal    
Application of attribution theory

At the moment, attribution theory is widely being used to explain the difference in motivation among low and high achievers. It also explains the concept and cause of failure. It is also used to explain and develop self-esteem, pride, and confidence among individuals. Attribution theory is widely applied in various domains such as clinical psychology, law, education, as well as mental health.

  • State and explain three-stage processes of attribution.
  • State and explain three causal dimensions of human behavior.
  • Using attribution theory, explain how an individual’s achievements can be attributed to the following factors.
  1. Efforts
  2. Ability
  3. Luck
  4. Level of task difficulty

—– Good Luck ——



Graham, S. & Folkes, V. (2014). Attribution Theory: Applications to Achievement, Mental Health, and Interpersonal Conflict. London: Psychology Press.

Hutchison, E. D. (2013). Essentials of human behavior: Integrating person, environment, and the life course. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Martinko, M. J., Harvey, P., & Dasborough, M. T. (2011). Attribution theory in the organizational sciences: A case of unrealized potential. Journal of Organizational Behavior32(1), 144-149.