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                Images]   Social Behavior I: Person Perception & Attribution Processes

Social Psychology: How an individual's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by others.

Person Perception: Forming Impressions of Others

How do you react to individuals?

What factors go into the way we perceive or judge people?

A. Effects of Physical Appearance

B. Stereotypes

= widely-held beliefs (within a specific culture) that people of a certain group have certain characteristics

C. Subjectivity in Person Perception

D. Evolutionary Perspective

MOVIES: Romeo & Juliet &
          West Side Story
Conflict over refugees


Attribution: Explaining Behavior (to ourselves)


= Inferences (conclusions or beliefs) people draw about the cause of events and their own and others' behaviors

   A. Internal vs. External Attributions

   B. Success or Failure Attributions: Stable vs. Unstable Causes

[B. Weiner]
Bernard  Weiner's
2-Dimension Theory
Dimension 2 (Stability)

Dimension 1

(Self or Not)

Internal Mood, Feeling

"I've been worried about some stuff at home and it interfered with my last job rating."
Ability, IQ

"They realized that I don't have the skills necessary for the job"
External Luck, Chance

"The company had to lay off employees because the economy is in a dip these days"
Changes in the World

"The jobs have moved overseas and the company can't afford American workers any more."

The table above shows how each of the four types of attributes might be used by four different people in answer to the question "Why did you lose your job"?

   C. Biases in Attributions

1. Actor-Observer Bias

Fundamental Attribution Error: Explain others' behavior as result of their personal qualities and own behavior as the result of situational factors.

  • for example: "s/he failed the test because s/he is stupid or lazy while I failed the test because I had to cope with an emergency in my family."
  • Why? It takes more cognitive effort to weigh situational factors than using automatic processes to point to dispositions and traits (i.e., personal qualities)

In general, actors favor external attributions while observers favor internal attributions

This may be the most important theory in social psychology!

2. Self-Serving Bias = Attribute success to one's personal qualities and failures to situational factors

  • for example: "I was smart enough to recognize that housing would be the next big investment opportunity and made my company a lot of money in the last five years. However, the company has begun to lose money recently because of the stock and credit market collapse that no one really could have predicted."


D. Culture & Attributions

Grey = Not Surveyed

 Cultures defined by Harry Triandis (above, left) as


  • Put personal goals ahead of group goals
  • Find identity in personal achievement and not group membership
  • The self-serving bias appears to be very widespread in individual cultures
    • versus Japan's "self-effacing" bias (attribute success to the help of others & downplay one's own abilities)


  • Put group goals ahead of personal goals
  • Find identity in group membership
  • Less likely to make the fundamental attribution error (vs. those in individualist countries)
[Hofstede]Geert Hofstede (1983) on "Individualism vs. Collectivism"
"The first dimension is labeled "Individualism versus Collectivism." The fundamental issue involved is the relation between an individual and his or her fellow individuals. At one end of the scale we find societies in which the ties between individuals are very loose. Everybody is supposed to look after his or her own self-interest and maybe the interest of his or her immediate family. This is made possible by a large amount of freedom that such a society leaves individuals. At the other end of the scale we find societies in which the ties between individuals are very tight. People are born into collectivities or in-groups which may be their extended family (including grandparents, uncles, aunts, and so on), their tribe, or their village. Everybody is supposed to look after the interest of his or her in-group and to have no other opinions and beliefs than the opinions and beliefs in their in-group. In exchange, the in-group will protect them when they are in trouble." (p. 79)


Hofstede, G. (1983). The cultural relativity of organizational practices and theories. Journal of International Business Studies, 14(2), 75-89.


This page was originally posted on 11/05/03 and last updated on November 5, 2016