An important element in perception is attribution process. Attribution theory (Kelley, 1972) suggests that when we observe an individual's behavior, we attempt to determine whether it was internally or externally caused. Internally caused behaviors are those that are believed to be under the personal control of the individual. Externally caused behavior is seen as resulting from outside causes; that is, the person is seen as having been forced into the behavior by the situation.
There are three determining factors in this regard:
Distinctiveness refers to whether an individual displays different behaviors in different situations. What we attempt to know is whether the observed behavior is unusual. If it is, the observer is likely to give the behavior an external attribution. If this action is not unusual, it will probably be judged as internal.
Consensus occurs, if, everyone who is faced with a similar situation responds in the same way. If consensus is high, one would be expected to give an external attribution to the employee‟s tardiness, whereas, in case of other employees taking the same route and making it work on time, the causation for the same will be attributed to internal causation.
Consistency refers to the pattern that is reflected regularly in a person's actions. Does the person respond the same way over time? The more consistent the behavior, the more the observer is inclined to attribute it to internal causes.
Fundamental Attribution Error (Ross, 1977)
Research evidence shows that individuals have a tendency to underestimate the influence of external factors and overestimate the influence of internal or personal factors. There is also a tendency for individuals to attribute their own successes to internal factors, such as, ability or effort while putting the blame for failure on external factors, such as, luck. This is called the “self-serving bias” and suggests that feedback provided to employees will be distorted by recipients. The question is whether or not these errors or biases that distort attribution are universal across different cultures? While exact answers may not exist, there is some preliminary evidence that indicates cultural differences (Robbins, 2003):
Ø Korean managers found that, contrary to the self-serving bias, they tended to accept responsibility for group failure.
Ø Attribution theory was developed largely based on experiments with Americans and Western Europeans.
Ø The Korean study suggests caution in making attribution theory predictions in non-Western societies, especially in countries with strong collectivist traditions. More studies are required to provide conclusive evidences in this regard.