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Attribution Theory

Attribution Theory

Attributions are the perceived causes and reasons that people give for an outcome or behaviour. Weiner (1995) states that the main elements of attribution are ability, effort, task difficulty and
luck. Attributions are typically either internal or external. These elements and divisions are related to the consequences of motivation, cognition and emotion. For example, making attributions to stable factors is likely to lead to expectations that similar results will occur again in the future, whereas unstable attributions provide less clear-cut information about expectations. Similarly, attributions to internal factors are thought to heighten emotional feelings whereas external attributions may lessen emotion.

Subsequently it has been found that the internal/external dimension will affect feelings of self-esteem and pride whereas feelings of controllability relate to such feelings as guilt and pity. For
example, successfully quitting smoking, if attributed to planning well for being a non-smoker may result in feelings of pride, whereas failure to quit, if attributed to lack of effort (controllable)
may produce feelings of guilt.

A particular element of attribution theory is learned helplessness. This is a challenge for the hypnotist. Learned helplessness can be global, contextual or situational, and is a state that describes the
process by which a person has negative experiences and then generalises them to the point where they simply “know” that there is no hope for them. Global learned helplessness may manifest
as depression (although depression is not always linked with learned helplessness). Contextual learned helplessness would be, for example, the client who is very successful at work, and can
form good working relationships but feels useless at developing personal relationships. An example of a situational learned helplessness may be the schoolboy who is competent in every subject,
except maths.

Lewis and Daltroy (1990) have proposed six possible applications of attributional principles to health education. These are equally applicable to the work of the hypnotist, and this list has been adjusted to use terms applicable to this field:

1. Development of therapeutic relationships: eliciting attributions can assist in the development of empathy between hypno-psychotherapist and client.
2. Creation of correct attributions: assistance in developing informed judgements about one’s health status may be important for psychosocial adjustment, particularly where illness is concerned.
3. Alteration of incorrect attributions: attributional change may be functional, either through misattribution alteration or through changes made in the dimensional structure of the attributions
4. Alteration of the focus of the attribution: sometimes the attributional focus may need to be shifted away from one area (for example, uncontrollable illness) to another. This may act as a coping mechanism or assist in personal adjustment.
5. Attribution of characteristics of the individual: hypnotists can use attributional statements in reference to the individual client or patient. These might motivate behaviours if the statements
give certain cues to the individual, such as how good a person they are or how capable they are.
6. Maintenance of perceived personal effectiveness: making the right attributions will have an influence on perceived competence and efficacy for the maintenance of their health

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