The Main Point:  Explanations drive behavior.

What is Attribution (The Why-Because Game)?

How do People Explain Things?



What are the Persuasion Effects of Different Attributions?

Litter-free classroom (Miller et al, (1975). JPSP, 31, 430-441)

Attribution:  Janitor and principal "clean room" teacher notes clean actions

Persuasion:  lectures, reasons, adult nagging

Pre/Post/Delayed with candy wrappers before recess


   Percentage of Wrappers Thrown Away

                 Pre       Post     Delayed

Control     20%       25%       30%

Persuasion  15        40        30

Attrib      15        80        85

Self-esteem and Math achievement (Miller et al)

Procedure:  8 days of treatment delivered by teacher and principal.

Test:  Pretest, immediate post, and 2wk delayed on teacher math test and self-esteem 

Attrib/Ability:  "You are doing well, good math student know assignments well"

Attrib/Motive:   "You work hard, trying more, keep on"

Persua/Ability:  "You should be good at, do well"

Persua/Motive:   "You should work more, harder, time"

Reinforcement:   "I'm proud, pleased, happy with your"

Control:         no messages

Outcomes: for SE only Attrib groups improved from pre to post for math Attrib groups 

improved at post and continued slightly at delayed post   while other groups did not 

improve sig at post or delayed;  effect for Attrib training also held for various ability 

levels (hi versus lo).

Music Teacher (Wild et al (1992) PSPB, 18, 245-251)

Participants see their music teacher either receive money or thanks for their work in the 

experiment.  Teacher then instructs participants the same way (masked to condition) 

how to play a keyboard.  Teacher leaves the room to permit free play time.  

Participants also fill out rating scales on teacher.

Results showed that volunteer teacher was seen as better teacher, produced better affect 

for the task, motivated more desire for learning, and these behavioral outcomes:

Repetition playing  (Money - 50%; Volunteer - 10%)
New Playing         (Money - 20%; Volunteer - 60%)

Problems with External Attributions

Magic Marker (Leeper et al, 1973, JPSP, 28, 129-137)

Researchers found that kids liked playing with magic markers (intrinsic motivation).  A 

nice person came by to watch kids play alone with markers.  In one condition the nice 

person watched the kid play, then said, "Thank you, you did a good job."  In the other 

condition, the Nice Person asked if the kid would like to draw for a Good Player 

Award.  The kid drew pictures.  Person then gave kid a Good Player award and had the 

kid write name on a Role of Honor.  One/two weeks later all kids were observed in 

free play.  Who spent most time with magic markers?  (9% versus 18%)

2. Surveillance (Enzle and Anderson, 1993, JPSP, 64, 257-266)

College adults evaluate educational potential of kids' toys (Lego blocks, etch-a-sketch, 

labyrinth) while being videotaped under several circumstances.

I won't be able to watch you, so knock when you are done

I'll watch to make sure you follow instructions,
I'll watch to see how well you do,
I won't be able to watch today, but next time I will,
I'll be watching,

I'll be watching because I'm curious to see what people do,
I'll be watching to make sure the videotape works,

100  0.5  sds for time playing and personal autonomy
600  1-9

After phase one, there was a "10 minute delay" in the experiment that allowed the 

participant free play.  Who plays longest?

Using Attribution to Advantage

The Message Tactic


elicit search for explanation (why?)


motivate bias for internal attribution (you're it)



receiver supplies control for future action


you don't drive yourself crazy

Attribution Again

Foot in the door

Cognitive Dissonance