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Psychology Glossary of Terms

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Attributions

Definition:
Inferences that people draw about the causes of other peoples' behaviour and their own behaviour.
 
Example:
The economy has not been doing well in the past year, and Rick has had a lot of business problems. A competitor recently opened up across the street from his store.. His friends have noticed that he has started to drink a lot as a result. He announces to his friends that he will be filing for bankruptcy. His friends believe that his failed business was due to Rick's inability to cope with his problems in a better way-they are attributing his business failure to internal factors.
 
Background:
Psychologists have suggested that cognitive factors such as attributions contribute to the development of depressive disorders. Beck views depression as resulting from negative, illogical, self-statements about oneself. It is thought that people make attributions in order to make sense of what has caused things to happen around and to them. People may attribute events to internal factors (e.g. personality, traits) or to external factors (e.g. situation, environment). People may also explain or attribute events to stable or unstable factors. Attributions may also be global or specific. It has been found that people who typically make internal, stable and global attributions are more likely to develop depression (because they think over and over again about their own negative attributes) than people with different attributional styles. Such individuals tend to blame themselves after negative events have occurred. Research has yet to sort out whether depression causes changes in thinking patterns or whether thinking patterns cause depression.
 
Further Reading:

Beck, A. T. (1991). Cognitive therapy: A 30 year retrospective. American Psychologist. 46, 368-375.

Robins, C. J. (1988). Attributions and depression: why is the literature so inconsistent?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 54, 880-889.

 
Related Terms:
Depressive disorders

External attributions

Internal attribution

Mood disorders

Self-Instructional Resources:
Take a 2-item self-test over this concept.

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