Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Actors and Observers: Divergent Attributions of Constrained Unfriendly Behavior

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Actors and Observers: Divergent Attributions of Constrained Unfriendly Behavior

Article excerpt

In light of previous attribution research, the authors investigated whether individuals make different causal inferences about their own, as opposed to other people's, constrained interpersonal behavior. Fifty-seven male and 59 female introductory psychology students were randomly assigned to act either friendly or unfriendly as they interacted with a same-sex confederate whose behavior was also constrained. Participants assessed their own, and the confederates', behavior during the interaction and general dispositions. Consistent with previous research on the correspondence bias or fundamental attribution error, and the actor-observer bias, dispositional influences played a more prominent role in participants' attributions concerning the confederates' behavior than their own. Possible explanations for these findings are discussed, as are the implications of these findings on interpersonal relations.

People often conclude quickly that drivers who cut in front of them are reckless and inconsiderate, but that they themselves cut in front of others either to avoid obstacles in the road, or because of other external circumstances. When passengers are present, people want to make certain that they are aware of the situational constraints that led to the abandonment of the principles of good defensive driving.

Whether referred to as correspondence bias (Gilbert & Jones, 1986; Gilbert & Malone, 1995; Jones, 1990) the fundamental attribution error (Miller, Ashton, & Mishal, 1990; Ross, 1977), the overattribution effect (Jones, 1979; Tetlock, 1985), or observer bias (Jones, Riggs, & Quattrone, 1979) the tendency for people to attribute others' actions to dispositional factors is an extremely reliable finding in attribution research. In contrast, people tend to favor situational explanations for their own behavior (Jones, 1990; Jones & Nisbett, 1972; Nisbett, Caputo, Legant, & Marecek, 1973), a notion contrary to Bem's (1965) self-perception theory that people make inferences about their own behavior in much the same way as outside observers do. Miller, Jones, and Hinkle (1981; see also Krueger, Ham, & Linford, 1996; Nisbett et al., 1973) demonstrated that people expect others to make dispositional attributions for their actions, which may explain why they are eager to call attention to situational influences on their own transgressions.

In a typical observer bias study, participants observe a behavior performed under constraint and are asked to make a judgment about the actor's disposition.' Participants frequently underestimate the impact of situational factors by indicating that the actor's disposition corresponds to the behavior. This effect has been demonstrated using essays purportedly or actually written under no choice conditions (Jones & Harris, 1967; Krull et al., 1999; Lord, Scott, Pugh, & Desforges, 1997; Miller et al., 1990), essays read aloud by a speaker who did not write them (Miller, 1976), alleged anxiety about discussing an anxiety-provoking topic (Snyder & Frankel, 1976), knowledge in a quiz game (Ross, Amabile, & Steinmetz, 1977; see also Krull et al. 1999), and willingness to participate in a burglary (West, Gunn, & Chernicky, 1975).

Napolitan and Goethals (1979) demonstrated that the effect occurs also with friendliness. They exposed participants to a female confederate whose behavior was either warm and supportive, or aloof and critical. Some participants were told in advance how the confederate would be acting, whereas others were told that her behavior would be spontaneous. After interacting with the confederate, participants completed a questionnaire assessing what type of person she was generally (friendly or unfriendly) and the extent to which they thought she was role playing. When the confederate's behavior was exclusively friendly or unfriendly, participants made corresponding inferences with little regard for whether her behavior was constrained or spontaneous. …

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