Styles of Attribution and Self-esteem

Attribution is understood as the interpretation or explanation that each individual makes about the causes, motives and/or reasons behind an event, feeling, belief or behaviour.

Many authors have related attribution to the motivational forces that push each individual and can even influence their self-concept and self-esteem.

The self-perception that each person has about themselves or their actions forms part of their personal value, this means that for the results to have a strengthening or motivational effect, they should not only be successful but also a consequence of self-worth.

This can also be applied to failure, in the opposite sense, which tends to be thought of as caused by outside factors and not results of self-worth.

Styles of Self-esteem

There are different types of attributions according to the general situation, the general time and according to where we place the control of the first two.

  1. Situation: These types of attributions can be divided into two subgroups, global and specific.
  • In global situational attributions, the explanation of an event is generalized to every other similar everyday situation.For example: “I’m always late getting there on time”.
  • In specific situational attributions, there are no generalisations. In fact, there is no causal connection of an event with other similar situations. For example, “I was busy finishing something up, but I’m not normally late so I will try to leave earlier”.
  1. Time: These types of attributions can be distinguished between stable and unstable.
  • In stable time attributions, the cause is permanent; “I will always be late”.
  • In unstable time attributions, the cause is specific to the current moment and this situation: “Today I was late”.
  1. Locus of Control: These types of attributions can be distinguished between internal or external.
  • Internal attributions, also called internal locus of control, the cause comes from within oneself, for example “I was late getting here on time because I am a mess and I can’t even manage to get myself organised”.
  • In external attributions, also called external locus of control, the cause of something is attributed to external factors, for example“I was late because I had to go to the bank”.

In this way, according to each person’s tendency toward attributions, it can be said that they have a more positive or negative style. According to their inner attribution style, people develop strategies that are more constructive or, conversely, they will tend to conform. If they have the idea that whatever they do won’t change anything then why do anything at all?

Styles of Attribution

Attribution style also influences the emotions that each individual feels. The following table shows some examples:


On the contrary, if we do not take responsibility for our achievements, the positive efforts we put toward that behaviour are lost. So, in the situations following that, our own strength isn’t valued and in the long run it turns into a negative form of self-esteem because nothing we do is thanks to us but rather outside factors.

Similarly, if we attribute our failure to internal and stables causes, we make ourselves believe that we can’t succeed which makes us anticipate failure. This is when people tend to say “I do everything wrong”, “I can never do anything right”.

Therefore, individuals should work toward knowing how to correctly attribute the causes of their behaviour, both success and failure.

However, it is a personal job and requires us to be responsible for our own behaviour without justification or blaming others for our failure or success.

The different types of attribution generate a tendency toward a certain style of attribution that flows into all aspects of a person’s life. After reading this post, what do you think is your style of attribution? We would like to hear your opinion, don’t forget to leave a comment!

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