Antecedents, Attributions, and Consequences; Oh my!

This comic illustrates in humorous fashion how a person’s beliefs and information directly impact the perceived causes of success or failure. Locus, stability, controllability are three properties evident in causal attribution while globality and intentionality are other possible causes. An analysis of the causal attributions above shows the locus to be external to the participant; a mix of what the participant views as stable and unstable responses from the environment; and while the participant would perceive the causes to be uncontrollable, it appears the employee exuded characteristics of laziness which Weiner (1985) would classify as optional control.

Reading through the comic and dissecting the causal attributions was rather amusing, and I found myself filtering conversations this past week through the filter of attribution theory. For example, my brothers-in-law were discussing the phenomena in baseball of a hitting streak (B. Petrick, C. Petrick, M. Petrick, personal communication, July 21, 2015). One argued there was a higher probability that a batter would get a hit if the batter preceding him hit the ball successfully (B. Petrick, personal communication, July 21, 2015). I quickly diagnosed this as what Weiner referred to as gambler’s fallacy, but then begin to think about it more carefully since this situation was not based solely on chance. As Kelley and Michela (1980) discuss, this could be attributed to the expectations one would have about behavior in situations. If the behavior is consistent with expectations, it is often attributed to the situation or external constraints. If the behavior is unique and unexpected, it is attributed to personal attributes and characteristics. Other tensions to consider are whether a batter views the success as skill or chance and whether it is attributed to stable or unstable factors.

For example, if the batter attributes the previous batter’s hit to the pitchers poor skill, this would be a stable and external skill causal attributes. These beliefs would possibly increase the motivation that the second batter has toward attaining a hit. However, if the batter attributes the hit to internal characteristics of the first batter, to luck, or an unstable factor such as an unusually poor pitch from a reliably good pitcher, this would not lend to an increased belief in subsequent personal success.

The intricacies and complex web of variables which compose human cognition and volition make attribution theory pivotal to understanding motivation. While it was a fun exercise applying these ideas to baseball and comics, it will be of even greater consequence to think about it in terms of instruction and learning.

Kelley, H., & Michela, J. (1980). Attribution theory and research. AnnualReview Psychology, 31, 457-501.

Weiner, B. (1985). An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion. Psychological Review, 92(4), 548-573.

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2 thoughts on “Antecedents, Attributions, and Consequences; Oh my!

  1. That comic was a great find! It really got me thinking, “how can we motivate this type of employee (or this type of student)?”, and I’m not really sure that I have an answer. It also really made me think about some of the conversations that I had with students last year regarding their success in high school and their feelings towards the classes that they took. When talking to them, a lot of them mentioned, “I had a good teacher” as one of the reasons why they liked the class that they took and/or did really well in the course. This makes me wonder, if the student thinks that the teacher is bad or they don’t get along with them, will they be less motivated and more likely to attribute failing a course assignment to the teacher, even if it might be some other factor? Additionally, in our role as instructional designers, how can we motivate students though the course material, even when they may not think highly of or get along with the course instructor.

    I’m probably rambling, but your post really got me thinking! Thank you!

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