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Information-processing and Motivated Distortion in the Attribution of Causality for Success and Failure

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An experiment was conducted to investigate the influence of both informational and motivational factors on observers' attributions. Observers evaluated the behavior of a "student therapist" who attempted to follow a prescribed procedure for reducing minor phobia in a presumed client. Observers were informed of the Probable Outcome of the therapy (positive or negative), and later learned of the Actual Outcome (successful or unsuccessful). Personal Involvement in evaluating the actor's performance was induced in half the observers by informing them they would take the actor's role themselves; the remaining half were told the study would conclude with their judgments. Consistent with previous theorizing and research about information processing, subjects attributed greater causality to the therapist's delivery when the actual outcome differed from the expected outcome than when there was agreement between the two. Subjects also attributed greater causality to the actor for a successful than for an unsuccessful outcome. Personal involvement led observers to attribute less causality to the actor than subjects who expected only to observe; an unexpected interaction of Personal Involvement and Probable Outcome also emerged. However, the strongest motivationally based prediction, an interaction of Personal Involvement and Actual Outcome, was not confirmed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1979-01-01

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