To make sense of the world, people develop explanations about what is happening and why people are acting certain ways. When people are interacting with others, communication decisions are influenced by the implicit theories, or attributions, of the participants. Ineffective communication may be partly a consequence of the parties’ idiosyncratic inferences and incompatible interpretations. Attribution theory provides a framework for understanding how people explain their own and others’ behavior. This entry reviews the attribution process and examines the importance of attributions for determining success or failure, for managing conflict in interpersonal relationships, and for determining people’s stigmatizing attitudes and discriminatory behaviors. It ends with information about the fundamental attribution error and the self-perception theory.

An important basis of attribution theory is that people behave the way they do for a reason. In other words, people have reasons for developing their impressions of others. Fritz Heider, one of the first researchers to write about the attribution process, was interested in how one person develops an impression of another. These impressions, he argued, are developed through a three-step process: (1) observation of behavior, (2) determination of whether the behavior is deliberate, and (3) categorization of the behavior as internally or externally motivated.

Littlejohn, Stephen W and Karen A.Floss. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory.USA:SAGE.129

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