Imagine you are walking down a hallway and you see someone you have met before (we’ll call him “Bill”) and wave at him. He appears to look at you, but he does not acknowledge you and keeps on walking.
What are some of your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about this situation? (Take some time to answer the question before moving on.)
Your answer to this question is influenced by your attributional style. An attribution is: A way of making sense of experience by making guesses (inferences) about the causes for events, especially our own and other’s level of responsibility. There are thought to be three main domains of attribution:
Personalization — Was the cause me or them (or it)?
Pervasiveness — Was the cause specific to circumstances or general?
Permanence — Is this cause a permanent or temporary one?
Review your answer to the hallway scenario again. Answer the following questions:
Did I attribute the problem to the other person or to me? An example of a “me” attribution is, “I must have done something to make Bill mad.” An example of a “them” attribution is, “He must have forgotten his glasses.”
Is it general or specific? An example of a general attribution would be, “Everyone’s ignoring me.” An example of a specific attribution would be, “Bill seems to be ignoring me.”
Do I think this is a temporary or permanent problem? An example of a temporary attribution is “If Bill is upset with me, we should be able to sort it out tomorrow.” A permanent attribution might be, “Bill is never going to speak to me again.”
You can tell from these examples that some attributional styles are more pessimistic and some are more optimistic. We’ll learn more about pessimism and optimism in the next sections.