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What is Attribution Theory?

What is 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.

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