May 12, 2019

Perception and Attribution - Review Notes

Perception is covered in a separate Note

Attribution refers to how people explain the cause of their behavior or others’ behavior. It is a cognitive process by which people draw conclusion about the factors that influence their behavior and others’ behavior.

Attribution Theories

There are two general types of attributions that people make: dispositional attributions and situational attributions. In dispositional attribution a person attributes his behavior to internal factors such ability and effort etc. In situational attributions, a person attributes his behavior to external factors such as quality of materials or machines used or social influence.

Attribution theory is concerned with the relationship between personal perception, social perception and interpersonal behavior. Attribution theories are many but they share the following assumptions.

1. People seek to make sense of the world.

2. People attribute actions to either internal (dispositional attributions) or external causes (situational attributions).
3. Attribution is done in fairly logical ways.

The credit for initiating the theory is given to Fritz Heider. Heider's conjecture is that both internal forces (personal attributes such as ability, effort, and fatigue) and external forces (environmental attributes like rules and atmospheric conditions) combine additively to determine behavior. Behavior differes from person to person based on his beliefs about the forces that dominate in a particular situation.

Locus of Control of a Person

Locus of control is a concept related to attribution.

Based on the series of attributions made by persons we can classify them as having internal locus of control or external locus of control. Internal locus of control persons will feel, for majority of the outcomes, their behavior, efforts, skills and ability are responsible. External locus of control persons will feel for majority of the outcomes, luck, task difficulty, behavior of other persons etc. are responsible.

There are some studies which found that internally controlled employees are generally more satisfied with their jobs, are more likely to be in managerial positions, and are more satisfied with a participatory management style. Some studies have found that internal locus managers are better performers.

Other Dimensions in Attribution Theory

Bernard Weiner suggested that a stability dimension is also there in attribution. The stability dimension has fixed and variable categories. Experienced employees have probably a stable internal attribution about their abilities. Ability is a stable variable. But effort is a variable internal factor. It varies from task to task

Kelley suggested that consensus is also an important dimension. Consensus is the perception about the question - do others act this way in this situation?

Some Finding and Conclusions from Attribution Studies

1. Bad luck attributions when made by the person himself or others take the sting out of a negative outcome.

2. Good luck attributions especially by others reduce the joy associated with success.

3. When individuals attribute their success to internal rather than external factors, they have higher expectations for future success, report a greater desire for achievement and set higher performance goals.

4. People tend to ignore powerful situational forces when explaining others’ behavior.

5. People attribute others’ behavior to personal factors such as intelligence, ability, attitude etc.

6. There is a self serving bias in attribution. People readily accept credit when told their success is due to their ability and effort. But will not accept if they were told that failure was due to their lack of effort.

7. Bosses blame the problems on the inability or poor attitude of the subordinates. But they blame the situation as far as they are concerned.

Attribution errors can be reduced by increasing interpersonal communication, workshops and team-building sessions.


Fred Luthans, Organization Behavior,

McGraw-Hill, New York, 2002.

Role of Perception in Organizational Behavior

Self-awareness is important for leaders and managers. Self-awareness is linked to self-reflection; by reflecting through introspection,  leaders gain clarity and concordance with respect to their core values, identity, emotions, motives and goals. Gaining self-awareness means working to understand how one derives and makes meaning of the world around him based on introspective self-reflective, testing of one's own hypotheses and self-schema. It is how one knows about how he knows in terms of Kegan’s (1982) notion of perspective-taking capacity. As originally defined, self-awareness represents an attention state where the individual directs his or her conscious attention to some aspect of the self (Duval & Wicklund, 1972; Hannah, 2005). It does not indicate whether the individual is accurate or inaccurate in his or her self-perception. Yet, by learning who they are and what they value,  leaders build understanding and a sense of self that provides an anchor for their decisions and actions.

Perception is also an important concept to understand others. Leaders have to avoid biases in perceiving others.

Anthony Tjan is CEO, Managing Partner and Founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball, vice chairman of the advisory firm Parthenon, has written, "There is one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader. That quality is self-awareness."

Become more self-aware. 

Here are three key ways to become more self-aware.

1. Test and know yourself better.

2. Watch Yourself and Learn.

3. Be aware of others, too. Self-awareness is crucial when building a team.

The trinity of self-awareness: know thyself, improve thyself, and complement thyself.

Introduction to Organizational Behavior - Online Book

May - Management Knowledge Revision - Cost and Management Accounting and Organizational Behavior

Updated  13 May 2019

19 May 2015, 10 July 2014, 4 Dec 2011

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