Attribution Theory & Self-Serving Bias – Stability & Controllability (2 of 3)

15 Jan

The previous post introduced us to the Attribution Theory and Self-Serving Bias. It also illustrated the first of the three attribution factors, the locus of control. In this post, we will discuss the two remaining factors – stability and controllability.

Let’s revert to the self-propping reflections of Sloth and Froth.

Sloth: Froth got promoted because her boss (a male in this case,) is completely smitten by her. I wasn’t promoted because my earlier boss, who was reasonable and sweet, got transferred; and now I’ve got to work under this insufferable hag! Her boss and my boss – they are here to stay! I can’t change a thing! She’ll continue to be promoted; I’ll continue to slog!

Froth: I got promoted because I am smart and intelligent. It’s my hard work on that project that led to this promotion. Sloth? He didn’t get promoted because he’s a sloth-ball. He’s an incorrigible procrastinator! I got promoted because I put in that effort – Sloth missed it because he doesn’t want to work hard!

So, Sloth attributes his failure and Froth’s success to “external”, “stable”, and “uncontrollable” causes. Froth on the other hand attributes Sloth’s failure and her success to “internal”, “unstable”, and “controllable” causes.

Thus, both Sloth and Froth are trying to cast the other person in the worst possible light. (Sloth says, she succeeded because everything was conducive for her, Froth says, Sloth failed because he didn’t work hard, which he could’ve…and so it’s too bad!)

The point to note here is that each one of us attributes causes in a similar way…though the degree might vary. Knowing this can help the trainers and the content writers in anticipating their learner’s responses. If you’ve been a moderator of a discussion, you’d know how you could raise a firewall between yourself and the participant by saying those two fatally poisonous words, “You are wrong!” Remember, that the audience thinks that he or she is much better than the average person on accomplishing everything (except whatever the audience has learned to feel helpless about – read, the Learned Helplessness posts.)

Let us sum it up.

Attribution theory says that humans attempt to attribute the reasons behind an event in a manner that they are able to cast themselves in the best light. They do this by evaluating the event on three factors, which are:

  • Locus (Whether internal or external)
  • Stability (Whether stable or unstable)
  • Controllability (Whether controllable or uncontrollable)

These three factors are “perceived” to establish a self-serving bias.

Important Note: There’s also a cultural dimension to self-serving bias. Despite the rapid westernization, the Eastern Cultures (India included) inhibit self-serving bias.

In the third and final post on this topic, we will discuss the Training and Content Creation implications of the Attribution theory, and of self-serving bias.

(Read the first post in this series here.)


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