explain how social psychological processes helped you to understand a specific event.
For each of your two separate entries, you should:
1. Describe the specific event or experience.
2. Identify and describe in your own words, the social psychological theory, process or research finding that you think explains the event or experience.
3. Discuss how the theory, process or research finding helps you to understand why the event occurred or why people felt and behaved as they did
According to the actor-observer effect, we tend to make dispositional
attributions when trying to explain other people’s behavior, while we are more
likely to attribute our own behavior to situational factors.
This principle came to mind while I was reading an article about two young
girls, aged twelve and thirteen, from a small Ohio town, who had decided to kill
one of their teachers . The teacher had reportedly reprimanded one of the girls
the day before. The student was so enraged by the incident and the subsequent
teasing by her classmates, that she brought a knife to school the following day
and made plans to kill the teacher after class. The other student was to assist her
by holding the teacher down while her friend stabbed her. Interestingly, about
twelve of their classmates, who knew of the plan, wagered a total of $200.00 on
the outcome. Fortunately, the school principal was able to foil the plot when she
discovered the plan through her questioning of a distraught classmate.
The article went on to explain how the parents of the students attributed
their behavior to growing gang violence and deteriorating social conditions. It
struck me that the parents were attributing the girls’ actions to outside or
situational forces, a seeming contradiction of the fundamental attribution error.
However, as I thought about it more, I realized that was not the case. Indeed
their explanation of the behavior was consistent with the fundamental attribution
error. How is that, you might ask, since according to the theory the tendency is
to attribute other people’s behavior to dispositional factors. Theoretically, they
should have been attributing the behavior to the girls’ temper or vengefulness.
Yet as parents they probably view their children as an extension of themselves
and so, in a sense, it is their own behavior they are trying to explain. They may
see their own competency as parents reflected in their children. Thus a
dispositional attribution for their children’s behavior would, in effect, be an
indictment of themselves and their parenting ability.
Since the parents are, in a sense, evaluating themselves and their ability, the
self-serving bias becomes operative. According to that theory, individuals tend
to attribute their success to internal factors and deny responsibility for their
failure by attributing them to external forces. In this case the parents might well
view their children’s behavior as a failure on their part. Thus, in order to
maintain a necessary sense of self-esteem, which is one of the functions of the
self-serving bias, the parents attributed the children’s behavior to situational
factors, which may well have had a role to play.