The ideal
of causal attribution aims to identify the processes as well as gather causal
inferences to understand and evaluate why people and ourselves behave in
certain ways. Kelley, H.H. (1973) formed the Covariation Model to distinguish
between whether a certain act is attributed by internal factors considering the
characteristics an individual holds, or in comparison to situational factors highlighting
the impact of the environment an individual finds themselves in. The term covariation
refers to the capability to observe how variables may alter due to the
relationship they share. Individuals gradually possess experiences as they enter
different phases in life. The attribution theory argues that people use these
experiences to determine whether certain variables have stayed the same or changed
in some way.  Many theoretical models similarly
search for causes of behaviour, distinguishing between whether the outcome was
due to external or internal factors. Heider, F. (1958) model described people
as scientists which responsibly process and identify the factors that lead to a
portrayal of certain behaviours. Additionally, the correspondence inference
theory illustrated by Jones, E.E and Davis, K.E. (1965) focuses on the
transition from the observation of behaviour to identifying and understanding
the motive of that individual. This essay will aim to outline and critically evaluate
Kelley, H.H. (1967) model, highlighting supportive and critical research.


Covariation model, put forward by Kelley, H.H. (1973) focuses on the factors
that allows individuals to utilize information to identify causal explanations
for certain events.  Kelley, H.H. (1973)
identified three types of  factors that
can explain causes of events which may influence are judgements. Consensus
refers to the similarity of behaviour that is consistent between individuals. If
a majority of people respond similarly to the individual, then there is a high
consensus, however a low consensus may involve the lack of response rates to
that entity. For example, a pseudonym John drinks alcohol when out with his
friends. If his friends drink as well, the behaviour is high in consensus. If only
John drinks then consensus is low. Distinctiveness indicates the uniqueness of behaviours
in any specific situations. The idea that the level of distinctiveness depends on
the individual and if the behaviour they portray is the same in all situations.

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For example, if John only drinks when he is out with his friends, then his
behaviour is high in distinctiveness. However, a low distinctiveness may
involve John consuming alcohol in any context. Lastly, consistency refers to
the covariation of behaviour across a period of time, in a simpler manner, the extent
to which an individual performs a certain behaviour every time the situation
occurs. For example, if John only drinks alcohol when he is out with friends,
then the consistency is high. Whereas, if John only drinks in specific occasions,
then this may produce a low consistency of behaviour.


Kelley, H.H.

(1973) model was examined and further experimented on by McArthur, L.A (1972)
who provided empirical evidence in support of Kelley, H.H. (1973) model. In order
to test attribution, she provided descriptions of sixteen behaviours which
eventually led to the outcomes on casual attributions to be measured. Although McArthur,
L.A. experiment supported Kelley’s predictions, consensus had been found to be
the least used then consistency and distinctiveness. Furthermore, Kelley, H.H.

(1973) was criticised by failing to inadequately explain the effect of Actor Observer
Bias. This refers to the emphasis put upon personal attributions which is
mostly used to explain behaviour of others rather for ourselves. In contrast
situational attributions are particularly used to explain our own behaviour.

This was illustrated by Jones, E.E and Nesbit (1965,1973) whose study involved
male students which significantly linked external factors to their own choices
of girlfriends and courses at university. However, when asked about their best
friend choices, these were recognised as dispositional factors. This evidence
suggests that actors and observers are aware that their behaviour varies in
different situations, thus any event promotes a different experience for the
actor and observer, and this is what Kelley, H.H. (1973) model of covariation
failed to explain.


the failure to consider the fundamental attribution error is further criticized
by research disapproving Kelley, H.H.(1973) covariation model of casual
attribution. The fundamental attribution error highlights the inclination for individuals
making attributions to underestimate situational factors and overestimate
personal factors. Research conducted by Ross, L.D (1977) who predominantly used
quiz masters and contestants, whereby social roles were attributed, the quiz
masters were responsible to ask the questions, to which the contestant would
respond. However, Ross, L.D. (1977) found that people inferred that the quiz master
possessed more knowledge. Miller. J.G. (1984) further criticised Kelley’s, H.

(1973) disregard of the impact of cultural differences. Miller, J.G. (1984)
concluded that the importance of dispositional factors was stressed mostly in individualistic
cultures amongst Americans. Whereas, collectivist cultures, such as India make
more situational attributions. This emphasis on internal factors rather than
external factors, shows the effect of correspondence bias, whereby factors may
be explained by internal aspects, eventhough they can easily be explained with
situational factors. This is a limitation to Kelley, H.H.(1973) model of
covariation due to the lack of explanation and lack of acknowledgment to these
factors. Thus, the model lacks external validity.


Heider, F. (1973) highlighted how individuals possess pre-conceived ideas about
their experiences, in detail the causes of these experiences. The Self-Serving
bias which Kelley, H.H. (1973) was criticised for not considering highlights
that internal causes attribute success, whereas failure is attributed to external
causes. Williams, R.L. (2004) significantly found that success in exams
correlated with intelligence and work ability, whereas exam failure attributed
to bad luck and difficult lectures. Kelley, H.H. (1973) model of covariation of
causal attributions fails to explain the effects of attribution bias, whereby
the formation of attributions involves people working out the causes of events
or behaviours. Some may not guess right, this therefore may lead to the
attachment of wrongful attributions.


To conclude, Kelley, H.H. (1973) covariation model
of casual attribution has been supported as well as criticised by many research
on additional models put forward. Many research has stressed upon the flaws of
the model, further highlighting the attribution bias and impact of cultural differences
which is not adequately explained in Kelley, H.H. (1973) model.  There’s been emphasis on the importance of individual
differences, whereby attributions are made in different ways. An advantage of
Kelley, H.H. (1973) model and the multiple theories mentioned above, is the use
of qualitative methods. Qualitative methods have enabled the direct insight
into reasoning’s of actions people portray. Thus Kelley, H.H. (1973) model is
to an extent influential


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