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We attach and assume meanings to others behavior in our day to day life, and the theory developed by Fritz Heider based on this attribution is called Attribution Theory. Fritz Heider was born (1896 – 1988) in Vienna, Austria and known well as a psychologist. Heider received Ph.D from the University of Graz at the age 24 for his innovates study and his work called “Thing and Medium”. Later he moved to Berlin and worked in a Psychology institution under the great psychologists Wolfgang Koehler, Max Wertheimer and Kurt Lewin.  In 1958, the book “The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations”was published by Heider which was the starting point of the Attribution theory and expanded version of the Balance theory.


Attribution – Assigning some quality or character of a person or thing


Attribution theory explains how and why ordinary people explain the things as they do. Everybody tries to make sense in this social world. People try to find the cause and effects even if they’re in none. Attribution theory is the study which comes under the social Psychology, through this theory Heider explains the causes of Individual behaviors and events. The Attribution theory was introduced by Heider but later it was developed by various psychologists and based on this theory various models were attempted to explain the behavioral processes of attribution.

According to Heider, How a person understands the event and how the event is related to the person’s thinking process and their behavior. Attribution theory tends to explain certain basic question of individuals “How others do and what they do”. A person interprets with himselves “why others do something which may cause attribute of one’s behavior. Most of our attributions are driven by our emotional and motivational impulses. Fritz Heider classified the attribution theory into two types as
1. Internal Attribution and 2. External or Explanatory Attribution

1. Internal Attribution

When a person is motivating for a certain action and questioned about it, the person needs to explain the reason for the question or action. In Internal attribution, a person always wants to show him as much as positive. Internal attributions are driven by motives and emotional attitudes of an individual.


Jim scored the highest mark in class. He believes that he got marks because he worked hard and because he has the ability to score good marks. He attributes the causes in the factors which are internal. And thus his confidence level increases and he tends to score higher next time also.

2. External Attribution

A person wants to understand the world through events which happens around him and a person seeks reason for that particular event by using external events.


Hendry Scored the lowest mark and he believes that it because the pen. He even believes that the person who checked his answer sheet was not in a good mood. He attributes the causes of this failure in external factors.


Fritz Heider thinking influenced generations of psychologists. He is one of the most cited social scientists of all time. There are several theories and models are developed based on the attribution theory. This theory employs various methods for the measurement and categorization of attributions. Even if it was developed by Heider the main framework of the theory was modelled by Bernard Weiner and Harold Kelley.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Nelly Maarif September 15, 2013, 9:42 am

    Attribution theory is one of the most common theorues appilied in Asian society… Some follow up research could be done to see whether the application of this theory is different in Asia contect vs those of western countries.

  • i.tmirxa February 4, 2016, 5:39 pm

    please …explain explanatory ,interpersonal and predictory attribution………….

  • Khaled Alyami December 28, 2019, 12:30 am

    This explanation was a great help for me to understand the theory.

    Thank you so much

  • Phillip Newberry May 30, 2021, 9:17 am

    Depends on a see mood and keep in mind wrong and right in
    life as your self see it

  • CYNTHIA ABELLA June 22, 2021, 8:22 pm

    Thank you for this material. I used it to impart to my students in my HBO class what attribution theory is. I chose it because the content as well as examples and applications are easy to understand.

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