Social Psychology (2606)
Spring 2001

Kelly's Covariation Model of Attribution


In class, we went over an example of different attributions you would make for a student's behavior toward a professor depending on what kinds of information you had, according to Kelly's covariation model. I then asked you to work in groups to come up with additional examples that lead to different attributions. Here are some of the examples you generated. In preparation for the exam, make sure you understand these examples and can generate new ones yourself for each of the attributional outcomes (internal attribution, external attribution, it depends on this specific combination of this person and this stimulus).

Scenario 1: Imagine that your friend John has told you that the movie Traffic is really good and recommends that you see it. Do you follow his recommendation? Using Kelly's covariation model, fill in examples of distinctiveness, consensus, and consistency information that would lead you to want to see this movie. That is, imagine that you make an EXTERNAL ATTRIBUTION, i.e., you decide that the reason John raved about the movie is because the movie is probably very good.

 

Details to make sure you have straight:

1. Who is the actor? Whose behavior are you trying to explain? John's

2. What is the target of the actor's behavior? What stimulus is John reacting to? The movie Traffic

3. What substantive conclusion would we be coming to if we made an external attribution? What does that mean? In this scenario, making an external attribution for John's behavior would probably lead you to conclude that the movie itself was the cause of John's positive evaluation. Thus, you'd probably conclude that this is a good movie.

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EXTERNAL ATTRIBUTION

For an EXTERNAL attribution, DISTINCTIVENESS is high. Examples students generated:
1. He usually doesn't like movies.
2. He doesn't praise all movies but has praised this one.

For an EXTERNAL attribution CONSENSUS is high. Examples students generated
1. Other people report liking the movie
2. Heard from other sources that movie is good.

For an EXTERNAL attribution CONSISTENCY is high. Examples students generated
1. He saw it again and still thought it was good.
2. His opinion of the movie is always the same.

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INTERNAL ATTRIBUTION

Imagine the same situation again but assume you come to a conclusion that makes you question whether this movie is any good. That is, imagine that you make an INTERNAL ATTRIBUTION.

Substantive conclusion (what it means in this example to make an internal attribution): If you think that John's recommendation about the movie is due to some internal factor, you're probably concluding that John raved about this movie because he tends to love all movies he sees.

For an INTERNAL attribution, DISTINCTIVENESS is low. Examples students generated:
1. John always praises movies
2. John likes all movies

For an INTERNAL attribution, CONSENSUS is low. Examples students generated:
1. No one else liked this movie
2. Everyone else hated this movie

For an INTERNAL attribution, CONSISTENCY is high. Examples students generated:
1. John always praises the movie Traffic.
2. John consistently says that he likes this movie.

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SPECIFIC SITUATION

Imagine the same scenario again, but instead assume that John's positive review of the movie was due to something peculiar about this particular set of circumstances.

Substantively, what does this mean? John just really loved Traffic this particular time he saw it. Maybe it was a really hot day and his enjoyment of the theater's air conditioning made his assessment of the movie more positive. Maybe he saw the movie with a new girlfriend who seemed to enjoy the movie and her enjoyment influenced John's reactions. In other words, liking Traffic was unique to a particular set of circumstances.

DISTINCTIVENESS can be low or high. Refer to earlier examples for instances of low and high distinctiveness
CONSENSUS can be low or high. Refer to earlier examples for instances of low and high consensus

CONSISTENCY is low. Examples of low consistency:
1. He saw the movie before and didn't like it, but this time he did like it.

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SCENARIO 2

Scenario 2: Imagine that your roommate was just stood up on a date by someone named Chris. Your roommate is kind of upset and you're trying to figure out why Chris acted the way he/she did (choose whatever gender you want for Chris and your roommate). Using Kelly's covariation model, fill in examples of distinctiveness, consensus, and consistency information that would lead you to think Chris is a jerk. That is, imagine that you make an INTERNAL ATTRIBUTION.

 

Details to make sure you have straight:
1. Who is the actor? Whose behavior are you trying to explain? Chris's
2. What is the target of the actor's behavior? What stimulus is Chris reacting to? Your roommate
3. Substantive conclusion: Chris didn't keep the date because he/she is inconsiderate and doesn't treat his or her dates very well.

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INTERNAL ATTRIBUTION

For an INTERNAL attribution, DISTINCTIVENESS is low. Examples students generated:
1. He stands all girls up
2. Chris always stands people up on dates
3. Chris always acts this way toward his dates.
4. He always flakes on dates, friends, or roommates

For an INTERNAL attribution, CONSENSUS is low. Examples students generated:
1. Usually other guys don't stand her up.
2. Roommate is usually not stood up.
3. No one else acts this way towards our roommate.
4. No one else flakes on my roommate – she never gets stood up

For an INTERNAL attribution, CONSISTENCY is high. Examples students generated:
1. Chris constantly stands her up.
2. Chris always stands up my roommate.
3. Chris always stands our roommate up.
4. They have made dates before and he has always flaked.

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EXTERNAL ATTRIBUTION

Imagine the same scenario again, but instead assume that Chris's failure to keep the date was due to your roommate being somehow un-date-worthy (i.e., make an EXTERNAL ATTRIBUTION and assume it was something about your roommate).

Substantive conclusion: There is something about your roommate that makes people want to break dates with him/her (e.g., he/she has a bad personality).

For an EXTERNAL attribution, DISTINCTIVENESS is high. Examples students generated:
1. Chris usually doesn't stand people up
2. Chris usually keeps plans that he makes with other girls.

For an EXTERNAL attribution, CONSENSUS is high. Examples students generated:
1. All the boys stand her up
2. My roommate is constantly stood up by dates.

For an EXTERNAL attribution, CONSISTENCY is high. Examples students generated:
1. He usually stands her up.
2. Every time that Chris and my roommate have made plans, he has stood her up.

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Late updated 2.22.01
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