Difference Between Dispositional Attribution and Situational Attribution

The field of study known as "attribution theory" investigates the reasons people provide for their actions and the results they observe. In this context, "cause and effect" refers to the process of making a decision based on a variety of available pieces of evidence.

The Austrian psychologist Fritz Heider proposed that people attribute their actions to a mix of internal (dispositional) and external (situational) factors including attitude and ability. Heider furthered it by saying that people's beliefs about what causes their actions are more important than the actual causes themselves. Humans, he said, act as "amateur psychologists" when they try to determine people's intentions. A student, for instance, is more motivated to put in extra effort if he believes that his success is the result of his own efforts rather than random chance.

The basic attribution mistake (which will be detailed below) involves both dispositional and situational attributions, and both aim to explain the causes of behaviors. When discussing an individual's actions, one might make a dispositional attribution, which focuses on the person's own inherent traits, or a situational attribution, which emphasizes environmental circumstances. These contrasts will be explored in further depth in the following topics.

What is Dispositional Attribution?

Attributing a behavior's origin to anything inside, such one's disposition, personality, emotions, appraisals, capacities, motivations, or beliefs, is known as dispositional attribution (McLeod, 2012). This form of attribution is made with the intention of enhancing the subject's image (Communication Theory.org). A worker who is told that he was promoted because of his efforts is far more likely to put in the same level of effort in the future.

An analogous study found that when evaluating testimonial advertising, adult consumers put more stock in situational than in dispositional attributions. Study participants were more inclined to believe that endorsers were interested in gaining attention and money rather than genuinely supporting the company. The study also indicated that consumers' preexisting attitudes about the brand were more influential than any given circumstance when evaluating the brand (Han, 2004).

What is Situational Attribution?

The concept of situational attribution (also called environmental attribution or external attribution) involves attributing a behavior's occurrence to factors beyond the control of the individual, such as the environment, the opinions of others, the passage of time, the difficulty of the task at hand, or even sheer random chance (McLeod, 2012).

To provide just one example, a worker who was passed over for a promotion may attribute his or her failure to do so to unfavourable luck or the simple dislike of him or her by their superior.

The basic attribution fallacy is the common inclination to blame external causes for one's own failures while assigning internal causes for the failures of others. As a result, we tend to give ourselves a pass while demanding perfection from those around us (Healy, 2017). For instance, one student could blame unforeseen traffic for his tardiness to class, while another would assume that his fellow student is just being lazy.

Differences: Dispositional Attribution and Situational Attribution

The following table highlights the major differences between Dispositional Attribution and Situational Attribution 7minus;


Dispositional Attribution

Situational Attribution


Attributing an action's motivation to a person's inherent traits is known as dispositional attribution.

The term "situational attribution" refers to the practise of attributing the origin of a behavior to a factor beyond the actor's control.


Personality characteristics, efforts, moods, judgements, talents, intentions, and beliefs are all examples of dispositional attributions.

For instance, if a worker is under the impression that he was promoted because of his efforts, he would work more in the future.

Weather, other people's opinions, the passage of time, the degree of difficulty of the work at hand, and sheer chance are all examples of things that may be attributed to certain situations.

Someone who did not get promoted can blame luck or assume that his boss just didn't like him.

Fundamental Attribution Error

People often make what's known as the "fundamental attribution mistake," or FAE, when they place blame for their own poor results on other causes rather than on themselves.

One student could claim that unforeseen traffic made him late to class, while another would assume that his tardiness was the result of laziness.

As a result, FAE relies on dispositional attribution to account for the mistakes of others.

A person uses situational attribution while discussing their own mistakes.


Attributing a person's behavior to their own inherent traits is an example of dispositional attribution. External or environmental attribution is another name for situational attribution.

Updated on: 26-Apr-2023


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