On the other hand, when forced to make judgments quickly, the people who were classified as incremental theorists were better able to make use of the situational aspects of the scene than the personalities of the actors. Individual differences in attributional styles can also influence our own behavior.
Incremental theorists, on the other hand, are more optimistic and do better in such challenging environments because they believe that their personality can adapt to the new situation. They assessed the attributional tendencies and the math performance of junior high school students at a public school in New York City. When they first entered seventh grade, the students all completed a measure of attributional styles.
As you can see in the following figure, the researchers found that the students who were classified as incremental theorists improved their math scores significantly more than did the entity students. It seems that the incremental theorists really believed that they could improve their skills and were then actually able to do it.
These findings confirm that how we think about traits can have a substantial impact on our own behavior. As we have seen in this chapter, how we make attributions about other people has a big influence on our reactions to them.
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But we also make attributions for our own behaviors. Social psychologists have discovered that there are important individual differences in the attributions that people make to the negative events that they experience and that these attributions can have a big influence on how they feel about and respond to them. The same negative event can create anxiety and depression in one individual but have virtually no effect on someone else.
A major determinant of how we react to perceived threats is the type of attribution that we make to them. Attributional style refers to the type of attributions that we tend to make for the events that occur to us. These attributions can be to our own characteristics internal or to the situation external , but attributions can also be made on other dimensions, including stable versus unstable , and global versus specific.
Stable attributions are those that we think will be relatively permanent , whereas unstable attributions are expected to change over time. Global attributions are those that we feel apply broadly , whereas specific attributions are those causes that we see as more unique to particular events. You may know some people who tend to make negative or pessimistic attributions to negative events that they experience.
We say that these people have a negative attributional style. This is the tendency to explain negative events by referring to their own internal, stable, and global qualities. Learned helplessness was first demonstrated in research that found that some dogs that were strapped into a harness and exposed to painful electric shocks became passive and gave up trying to escape from the shock, even in new situations in which the harness had been removed and escape was therefore possible.
Similarly, some people who were exposed to bursts of noise later failed to stop the noise when they were actually able to do so. In sum, we can say that people who make more positive attributions toward the negative events that they experience will persist longer at tasks and that this persistence can help them. There are limits to the effectiveness of these strategies, however. We cannot control everything, and trying to do so can be stressful.
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Having a positive, mildly optimistic outlook is healthy, as we explored in Chapter 2, but we cannot be unrealistic about what we can and cannot do. We may think that we are immune to the potential negative outcomes of driving while intoxicated or practicing unsafe sex, but these optimistic beliefs can be risky. Attributional retraining interventions have been developed based on this idea. These types of psychotherapy have indeed been shown to assist people in developing a more positive attributional style and have met with some success in alleviating symptoms of depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorders Wang, Zhang, Y.
Again, retraining couples to make more balanced attributions about each other can be useful, helping to promote more positive communication patterns and to increase relationship satisfaction Hrapczynski, Epstein, Werlinich, LaTaillade, Attributions also play an important part in the quality of the working relationships between clients and therapists in mental health settings.
As well as developing a more positive attributional style, another technique that people sometimes use here to help them feel better about themselves is known as self-handicapping. Self-handicapping occurs when we make statements or engage in behaviors that help us create a convenient external attribution for potential failure.
There are two main ways that we can self-handicap. One is to engage in a form of preemptive self-serving attributional bias, where we claim an external factor that may reduce our performance, ahead of time, which we can use if things go badly. Another method of self-handicapping is to behave in ways that make success less likely, which can be an effective way of coping with failure, particularly in circumstances where we feel the task may ordinarily be too difficult.
It was then explained to them that the researchers were testing the effects of different drugs on performance and that they would be asked to take a similar but potentially more difficult intelligence test while they were under the influence of one of two different drugs. The participants were then given a choice—they could take a pill that was supposed to facilitate performance on the intelligence task making it easier for them to perform or a pill that was supposed to inhibit performance on the intelligence task, thereby making the task harder to perform no drugs were actually administered.
Berglas found that men—but not women—engaged in self-handicapping: they preferred to take the performance-inhibiting rather than the performance-enhancing drug, choosing the drug that provided a convenient external attribution for potential failure. This finding is consistent with the general gender differences we have talked about in many places in this book: on average, men are more concerned than women about using this type of self-enhancement to boost their self-esteem and social status in the eyes of themselves and others.
You can see that there are some benefits but also, of course, some costs of self-handicapping. If we fail after we self-handicap, we simply blame the failure on the external factor. But if we succeed despite the handicap that we have created for ourselves, we can make clear internal attributions for our success. Engaging in behaviors that create self-handicapping can be costly because doing so makes it harder for us to succeed. Although self-handicapping would seem to be useful for insulating our feelings from failure, it is not a good tack to take in the long run.
They also tend to set goals that they believe they can attain, and to regularly make some progress toward reaching them. As the saying goes, being on the journey is often more important than reaching the destination. Abramson, L. Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87 1 , 49—74;. Alloy, L. Do negative cognitive styles confer vulnerability to depression?
Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8 4 , — Atkinson, D.
Etiology beliefs, preferences for counseling orientations, and counseling effectiveness. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38, Berglas, S. Drug choice as a self-handicapping strategy in response to noncontingent success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36 4 , — Blackwell, L. Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention.
Child Development, 78 1 , — Blascovich, J. Challenge and threat appraisals: The role of affective cues. Forgas Ed. Boyer, W.
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Accentuate the positive: The relationship between positive explanatory style and academic achievement of prospective elementary teachers. Cacioppo, J. The need for cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42 , — Dornbusch, S. The perceiver and the perceived: Their relative influence on the categories of interpersonal cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1 5 , — Duncan, B. Psychotherapy, 31, Fletcher, G. Attributional complexity: An individual differences measure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51 4 , — Henry, P.
Life stress, explanatory style, hopelessness, and occupational stress. Hirt, E. Self-reported versus behavioral self-handicapping: Empirical evidence for a theoretical distinction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61 6 , — Hrapczynski, K. Changes in negative attributions during couple therapy for abusive behavior: Relations to changes in satisfaction and behavior. Lawrence, J. Velocity toward goal attainment in immediate experience as a determinant of affect.
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32 4 , — Malle, B. Conceptual structure and social functions of behavior explanations: Beyond person-situation attributions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79 3 , — Metalsky, G. With more than 10 years of experience as a network administrator, Gregory holds an Information Management certificate from the University of Maryland and is pursuing MCSE certification. His work has appeared in numerous online publications, including Chron and GlobalPost.
Skip to main content. Resources 1 Outlook. About the Author An avid technology enthusiast, Steve Gregory has been writing professionally since Accessed 07 November Gregory, Steve. Small Business - Chron.
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