Anderson, C. A., & Slusher, M. P. (1986).

Relocating motivational effects: A synthesis of cognitive and motivational effects on attributions for success and failure.

Social Cognition, 4, 270-292.


The long-standing debate over motivational biases as explanations for asymmetrical (i.e., self-serving) attribution patterns for success and failure is examined in the present paper. Following the suggestion of Tetlock and Levi (1982), our analysis focuses on development of a more precise model of attribution processes, rather than on pitting motivational and cognitive models against each other. We propose a two-stage attribution model, in which motivational manipulations influence the selection of the knowledge structures to be used in the subsequent selection of an attribution. Three experiments demonstrate that a popular ego-involvement manipulation does, in fact, change the perceived relevance of several self-beliefs, and that this knowledge-structure effects does produce the typical asymmetrical pattern of attributions for success and failure, even in uninvolved (i.e., not ego-motivated) observer subjects. It is suggested that the location of motivational impact is at the problem-formulation stage of an attributional task, but is not at the attribution-selection stage. Implications for future research are discussed.

© 1986 by the Guilford Press.

For a pdf version of the article, click here.