Dispositional Attributions Attribution Differences Essay

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¶ … Dispositional Attributions


Differences in Dispositional Attributions Between Participants From Western and Eastern Cultures

The fundamental attribution error describes the tendency for people to make a dispositional attribution when observing the behaviors of others. Previous research has indicated that non-Westerners do not show a strong effect, especially those from more collective cultures such as those from the East (e.g., Asian cultures). These individuals tend to explain behavior based on context or situational factors. This is believed to be due to Eastern cultures' emphasis on collective values and interdependence and Western values of independence. The following study looked at differences between 16 Western Americans and 16 Eastern Americans on their tendency to make internal attributions to explain the behavior of characters they read about. The participants were also administered measures of individualism and cultural identity. Western participants made more dispositional explanations than did their Eastern counterparts, but did not display higher individualism. The findings are discussed in the context of previous research.

Differences in Dispositional Attributions between Participants from Western and Eastern Cultures

In a classic study Watson (1960) gave subjects a three number sequence 2-4-6 and asked them to guess the rule he used to devise the series. He invited them to test their hunches by deriving their own sequences and would tell them whether they were right or wrong. The overwhelming majority ended up confidently stating the wrong conclusion based on evidence they generated to confirm their own immediate conclusion (most often the conclusion was either ascending even numbers 10-12-14-or sequences ascending by two's 31-33-35). In fact, the rule was any three-number ascending sequence. Further evidence has revealed that individuals, including psychologists, medical doctors, and other professionals seek to confirm their impressions rather than disconfirm them.

The confirmation bias (Watson, 1960) refers to a cognitive process in which we selectively and unconsciously assign more weight to stimuli, information, or events that seem to confirm our preconceptions or views of the world. Most everyone unconsciously engages in the confirmation bias; it is simply a method psychological streamlining for processing information. The process tends to be automatic and requires effort to override it. Confirmatory biases can occur when people seek and review information in a way that confirms rather than disconfirms their preconceived notions. For example, a classic study by Rosenhan (1973) had students posing as mental patients by claiming to have "heard voices" in a psychiatric ward. The staff observed the students and recorded their behaviors as if they were those of psychotic patients, when in fact the students were taking notes on the goings on around them. While real patients were easily able to tell that the students did not suffer from any genuine psychiatric issues such as schizophrenia, the staff, including psychiatrists and nurses could not. The rather benign behaviors performed by students who were thought to have a psychiatric diagnosis in psychiatric wards were perceived as having clinical significance. Thus, the staff in the hospital sought only to confirm what they already believed. As the vast body of research indicates, confirming what one already believes can lead to rigid search strategies when interpreting information and lead one to make attributional errors. Attribution theory explains how people make casual inferences when judging other people's behavior.

Jones and Davis (1967) believed that people pay particular attention to behaviors that are perceived as intentional. Dispositional (internal) attributions provide us with information from which we can make predictions about a person's future behavior, thereby simplifying our interactions with them. Jones and Davis' correspondent inference theory described the conditions under which we make dispositional attributes regarding behavior. The term correspondent inference refers to an occasion when an observer infers that a person's behavior (the actor) corresponds with their personality or other internal factor. The term "fundamental attribution error" was actually later coined by Ross (1977) to describe the tendency for people to make a dispositional attribution when observing the behaviors of others. The fundamental attribution error has since become one of the most researched topics in social psychology.

In a groundbreaking study Miller (1984) reviewed the competing explanations of the fundamental attribution error, especially related to the observation that children and non-Westerners did not show a strong effect. These potential explanations consisted of: (1) a cognitive explanation that hypothesized that children and non-Western attributors have not developed abstract classifying abilities used to sum behaviors by disposition; (2) an experiential interpretation that claimed these groups lacked the experiences that make it functional to use dispositional as opposed to contextual attributions and; (3) a cultural explanation that claimed that Western children learned to make these attributions and people reared in non-individualistic more collective cultures did not make such attributions. Miller hypothesized that the cultural explanation was the most valid of the three. Comparing both Hindu and Western children and adults on measures of attributions Miller was able to demonstrate that non-Westerners tended to rely on contextual attributions and Western children demonstrated an age-graded effect in providing dispositional attributions. Cognitive and experiential explanations of the findings were not supported. The tendency to make dispositional attributions in the Miller (1984) was stronger for deviant behaviors than prosocial behaviors. A similar demonstration by Morris and Peng (1994) indicated that the causal attributions made by Americans of events like mass murders focused almost exclusively on the presumed mental instability or other negative dispositions of the perpetrators, whereas attributions by Chinese of these same events reflected on situational, contextual, and even societal factors involved.

The notion of the views of the roles of social responsibly indicated that Westerners hold a more individualistic ideal (people are responsible for themselves) than do more collective-based cultures. In a well controlled study on moral reasoning, Miller, Bersoff, and Harwood (1990) found that Hindus regard responsiveness to the needs of others as an objective moral obligation to a far greater extent than do Westerners supporting the notion of a that Westerners consider a more narrow view of social responsibility to others. The finding that European North Americans tend to privilege personal agency, whereas East Asians tend to privilege group agency has been supported by others (e.g., Chiu, Morris, Hong, & Menon, 2000). These two groups also differ in the use of information they consider to make social inferences. East Asians do not consider less directly relevant information that European North Americans use when making causal attributions (Choi, Dalal, Kim-Prieto, & Park, 2003).

The current study focused on the differences in making dispositional attributions in a group of Western American studies compared to Eastern Americans. It was hypothesized that the Western students would produce a higher level of dispositional attributions to explain the behaviour of individuals they read about. Western American students were also hypothesized to display more individualism than the Eastern counterparts.



In all thirty-two participants completed the study. Sixteen of the participants were raised in Western cultures (e.g., Polish / Polish-Americans, Western European-Americans). This group consisted of nine males and seven females with an age range of 21-30. Sixteen of the participants were from eastern cultures (e.g., Chinese/Chinese-Americans, Japanese/Japanese-American). This group consisted of eight males and eight females with an age range of 20-31. All participants were recruited from Lehman College- Bronx, New York or from a local church in the community.


Participants completed questionnaires that consisted of questions regarding their demographic background, a cultural identity scale, an independent-interdependence scale, and 15 dispositional-situational scenarios. The cultural identity scale is not analyzed in this paper.

The dispositional-situational scenarios consisted of short statements (e.g., "Kate missed the train.") followed by two choices to explain the behavior. Participants were instructed to pick the best choice. The independent-interdependence scale consisted of 24 statements answered on a seven-point Likert scale.


The researchers distributed the surveys at school and a church in the community collected them the following day. The independent variable for this study was the cultural background of the responders (Eastern or Western), whereas the dependent variables were the number of dispositional attributions made on the survey and the level of independence the participants displayed in their answers from the survey. The data was entered into a computer and analyzed using SPSS.


The groups did not differ significantly according to their mean ages (t (30) =

1.32, p > 0.05) or mean level of education (t (30) = -1.033, p > 0.05).

Table one displays the means and standard deviations for both groups on measures of the tendency to make internal attributions of others' behavior and independence.

One-tailed T-tests were used to test for significance between the two groups on the dependent measures. As can be seen in Table One, the participants from Western cultural backgrounds scored higher on measures of the tendency to make internal attributions to explain the behavior of others than did subjects from Eastern cultural backgrounds. This difference was significant t (30) = -4.033, P < 0.05.

Also depicted in Table One are the means and standard deviations for measures of independence. Western participants also scored higher than Eastern participants on measures of independence, but this… [END OF PREVIEW]

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