Explaining One's Self to Others: Reason-Giving in a Social Context

By Margaret L. McLaughlin; Michael J. Cody et al. | Go to book overview

perceptions of scientific activity: the classical attribution model treats the scientist as a logical analytical individual, whereas discourse analysis treats science as a social enterprise subject to social and psychological analysis (cf. Kruglanski, Baldwin, & Towson, 1983). Clearly, in general terms, this latter principle is compatible with the conversational model of explanation. The conversational model, however, provides a specific model of the structure and pattern of that discourse, whereas the discourse approach draws on broader theoretical perspectives dealing with the structure of discourse.


CONCLUSION

Clearly explanations often deviate from the straightforward discounting path suggested by classic attribution theories. In some cases this is an effect of cognitive biases and cognitive structures, but in other cases it reflects the fact that actions and outcomes are embedded in a range of causal influences, and people see little reason to discount one of those influences simply because another one is present. The newer models of causal selection, such as knowledge structures and conversational analysis, encompass some of these findings. However, as the previous discussion suggests, there are several issues that should be taken account of. First, explanations reflect aspects of particular situations and particular categories of cause, rather than a universal cognitive structure. This view does not require a naive realism, but it does require a connection between cognitions and actual events and a recognition of the logical relations between causes and effects. Tied in with this point is the issue that communicated explanations may omit some perceived determinants of events. Discounting the strength of a cause has to be differentiated from omitting a cause in a communication. A further point is that explanations serve a range of purposes and do not always function to assist or inform an inquirer or to provide the simplest explanation. Explanations may serve a path of enlightenment or a perpetuation of false consciousness. People's goals in their communications and explanations shape their causal selections.


REFERENCES

Abelson R. P., Leddo J., & P. Gross ( 1987). The strength of conjunctive explanations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 13, 141-155.

Ajzen I., Dalto C. A., & D. P. Blyth ( 1979). Consistency and bias in attribution of attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1871-1876.

Austin J. L. ( 1962). How to do things with words. London: Oxford University Press.

Billig M. ( 1982). Ideology and social psychology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Bowers J. ( 1988). Review essay. Discourse and social psychology: Beyond attitudes and behaviour. British Journal of Social Psychology, 27, 185-192.

Cunningham J. D., & H. H. Kelley ( 1975). Causal attributions for interpersonal events of varying magnitude. Journal of Personality, 43, 74-93.

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