Actors' and observers' attributions for success and failure: A comparative test of predictions from Kelley's cube, self-serving bias, and positivity bias formulations

Wayne S. Tillman, Charles S. Carver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

26 Scopus citations

Abstract

An experiment was conducted to test implications of Kelley's cube, self-serving bias, and positivity bias formulations for attributions associated with success and failure on a test of "abstract reasoning." Subjects either experienced or observed outcomes on three tasks. They then made attributions for only the third outcome, which was either a success or a failure. The first task was of the same type and had the same outcome as the third task, thus providing the information that the outcome being attributed was high in consistency. The second task was of a different type than the first and third tasks, and its outcome either did or did not differ from their outcomes, thus varying information about the distinctiveness of the outcome being attributed. Consensus was manipulated by presenting false norms, ostensibly from a previous experiment. In contrast to previous research, the present study included thorough checks on all of these informational manipulations. Regardless of attributor role (actor or observer), subjects attributed success more to internal than to external factors and attributed failure more to external than to internal factors. These findings indicate a general bias toward positive evaluations. Discussion centers on possible alternative interpretations of these findings, restrictions on their generality, and the limitations that they seem to impose on the applicability of the other two formulations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-32
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume16
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1980

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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