Anderson, C. A. (1991).

How people think about causes: Examination of the typical phenomenal organization of attributions for success and failure.

Social Cognition, 9, 295-329.


Much is known abut attribution processes and attributional effects, yet little is known about how people actually think about causes. This question has usually been addressed in the form, "Which causal dimensions do people use?" rather than "How do people think about causes?." A review of the literature revealed three main confusions. First, scientific description of attributional effects on outcome variables is confused with phenomenal description of how people think about causes. Second, whether or not people can think about a particular dimension is confused with whether or not people do think in terms of that dimension. Third, whether or not people can think of causes in dimensional terms is confused with whether people typically think of causes in a dimensional versus categorical fashion. Necessary criteria for examination of the phenomenal description question were discussed. New data meeting those criteria were presented. The main findings were: (1) Strong evidence that people typically think in categorical terms; (2) Weak evidence that people may also typically think of a few standard attribution dimensions; (3) Strong evidence that a major concern of people when thinking about causes is personal control; (4) Strong evidence that several standard attribution dimensions are not represented in people's typical thoughts about causes, specifically, stability, globality, and control-by-someone. Theoretical and practical implications were discussed.

© 1991 by the Guilford Press.

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