So far in the course, our discussion of social perception has focused mainly on judgments about people. But social perception also includes judgments about behavior, and that's what I want to focus on in this video. Specifically, I want to say a few words about attribution theory, one of the best known theories in the history of social psychology. It's a theory about how people interpret behavior—how they make "causal attributions," or causal explanations, for their behavior as well as the behavior of other people. Now, why should anybody care? Why does it matter how people explain behavior? Well, because the way you explain behavior often determines what you'll do about it. If, for example, you fail an exam because you haven't prepared for it, you might study harder the next time around. But if you attribute the failure to the exam being unfair— if that's your explanation— then maybe instead you'll talk with other students, maybe you'll file a complaint, maybe you'll visit the instructor during office hours, but it will be a different solution. Or going back to the example we discussed earlier, if you're the leader of South Korea and you attribute North Korea's armament to aggressive intentions, you'll probably behave differently than if you explain North Korea's behavior in terms of its own national defense. Think about how important attributions are in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict! In addition, understanding how people explain behavior is useful at the personal level. For example, it can help us avoid conflict. It can improve friendships and romantic relationships. It can increase productivity and job satisfaction. And it can lead to greater self-understanding. So, let's start our discussion of attribution theory with a few words about what exactly it is and where it came from. Attribution theory is generally credited to Fritz Heider, who kicked everything off with a 1958 book called The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations, but it was social psychologists like Bernie Weiner and Hal Kelley who were actually among the first to develop attribution theory into a detailed and testable theory. According to Kelley, people generally explain behavior in terms of three possible causes. The first one is simply the person— that is, something about the person may have caused the behavior. Second, entity— some enduring feature of the situation or the stimulus, the entity, something outside the person may have caused the behavior. And finally, time— something about the particular occasion may have caused the behavior. Kelley proposed that these attributions are based largely on three corresponding sources of information. First, he said people look at consensus: Do other people respond similarly in the same situation? Is there a sort of consensus behavior in response to the situation? Second, distinctiveness: Do other situations elicit the same behavior, or is this one distinctive in some way? And finally, consistency: Does the same thing happen time after time? So, to illustrate, suppose that you were the only person to perform well on a variety of tests across a range of occasions. Well done! In terms of Kelley's theory, what kind of pattern of information would that represent? Well, for one thing, we know that it would be low consensus. Right? Because it's not that everybody does this; that's not the consensus behavior, but in fact, you're the only one who's performing well. Second, it would be low distinctiveness because it happens across a wide variety of tests. There's nothing distinctive about the results of any one particular test; you're doing well in this test and that test and that test and so on. And, finally, high consistency because the same thing happens again and again and again across a range of occasions. Even if it's the same test, every single time you take it, you're doing well. In such a case, Kelley would predict a person attribution—an explanation in terms of your personal abilities. Let's pause for a pop-up question just to make sure Kelley's framework is clear. Kelley realized, of course, how oversimplified this model was, but he proposed it as a general framework to think about how people make causal attributions, and in most respects, the model has held up quite well over time. It's received quite a bit of research support. I'll mention some exceptions in the next video when we cover attributional biases, but for now, I want to talk about just one factor that influences causal attributions, whether they're accurate or whether they're biased, and that factor is something social psychologists call "salience." A salient stimulus is one that grabs your attention in some way, that's prominent. So, [CLAP] that's salient. Or BLAHHH! That's salient. Or WHOA, WHOA, right? Or this is salient. You get the idea. And the research finding here is that salient stimuli tend to be viewed as disproportionately causal. That is, in general, the more salient a stimulus is, the more likely it is to be viewed as causal, as having caused a behavior to occur— not always, not in every situation, but in many situations. In other words, perceptions of causality are partly a function of where one's attention is directed within the environment. And attention is, in turn, a function of salience: we pay more attention to things that are salient. In 1978, a landmark paper on this topic was published by Shelley Taylor and Susan Fiske. In this paper, they reviewed a large number of studies on the link between salience and causal attribution, but let me just highlight a few to give you a sense of these studies, and some of the most interesting results that they generated. In one experiment, six observers watched a dialogue between two people while seated either behind one of the individuals, whom I've labeled A and B in the diagram, or on the sidelines between the two. In this particular study, the observers were actually the experimental subjects, or participants, and the two people in the center, Person A and Person B, were "confederates" of the experimenter, meaning that they were members of the research team playing a particular role. All of the observers watched the conversation simultaneously, so the only informational difference was the visual salience of the two people holding the discussion. That is, everybody listened to the same conversation at the same time. For people sitting behind Person A, looking into the face of Person B, the most salient person was B. On the other hand, for people sitting behind Person B, observing Person A, the most salient person was A. And for people sitting on the sidelines, A and B were equally salient. What were the results? Well, despite the fact that everyone heard the same conversation, Taylor and Fiske found that observers tended to rate the person in their visual field as having set the tone of the conversation, having been the one who determined the type of information exchanged, and having caused the other person's responses. That is, observers of Person A saw A as more influential or causal, observers of Person B saw B as more causal, and observers on the sideline gave ratings that fell in between the two other groups. Now, let's return for a moment to a question that I posed earlier, which is: Why should we care about these findings? Why does this matter? Well, if we want to make fair and accurate judgments about what led somebody to behave in a certain way, or who's responsible, or, in the case of a crime, even who's guilty, then we probably don't want to be influenced by where we happen to be looking at the moment that we're making the judgment, and we sure don't want to be influenced without knowing it. And yet, if we're not careful, this is exactly what can happen. Let me give you an example. Research by Dan Lassiter and his colleagues on false confessions and videotaped police interrogations has found that when the camera angle focuses on the suspect, people are twice as likely to see the suspect as guilty than when the camera is focused on both the suspect and interrogator. And when it comes to preventing false confessions—that is, confessions when the suspect's actually innocent—the best practice of all may be to focus mainly on the interrogator because it makes that person seem more responsible for pressuring the suspect into a false confession. Professor Lassiter was kind enough to share some video clips that he used in this research reenacting a real life case that experts say was probably a false confession. Let's watch one minute of the interrogation, first focusing on the suspect, which is the most common way that police interrogations are videotaped, and then we'll watch the very same interaction, this time focusing on the interrogator. >> Now, when you led her off the road, you said you tried to, I guess, either calm her down or hug her, and she pulled away. >> Yeah. >> Was she pulling away from you, or... >> Well, she was kind of pulling away and turning away from me, and then I, I think she turned her back around, and I think she said maybe something about not caring any more. >> And did that make you angry or frustrated or what? >> I assume, yes. >> Assume yes what? >> Well, I'm sure it came close to, to killing me. >> Did it make you— well, I asked you two questions, Son. Did it make you angry or frustrated or both or neither? >> Well, it, it probably, probably wasn't anger. It was probably just frustration. >> Now, when you struck her, did you pick up anything on the ground to strike her with? >> I, I don't think so. >> Could you have picked up a rock and hit her with it? >> I could have, you know. >> Is that a possibility? >> Yeah. I mean, anything is a possibility, but I don't have memories. >> So, that's the interrogation focusing on the suspect, which is how most interrogations are recorded, and I must say that the suspect does look guilty. But before we reach a verdict, let's watch the very same interrogation, this time from the suspect's point of view, focusing on the interrogator, who's clearly putting a lot of pressure on the suspect. Remember that the experts think that this case is probably one of a false confession, in which the interrogator is pressuring the suspect and eventually the suspect confesses to a crime he didn't commit. >> Now, when you led her off the road, you said you tried to, I guess, either calm her down or hug her, and she pulled away. >> Yeah. >> Was she pulling away from you, or... >> She was kind of pulling away and turning away from me, and then I, I think she turned her back around, and I think she said maybe something about not caring anymore. >> And did that make you angry or frustrated or what? >> I assume, yes. >> Assume yes what? >> Well, I'm sure it came close to, to killing me. >> Did it make you—well, I asked you two questions, Son. Did it make you angry or frustrated or both or neither? >> Well, it, it probably, probably wasn't anger. It was probably just frustration. >> Now, when you struck her, did you pick up anything on the ground to strike her with? >> I, I don't think so. >> Could you have picked up a rock and hit her with it? >> I could have, you know. >> Is that a possibility? >> Yeah. I mean, anything is a possibility, but I don't have memories. >> Focusing on the interrogator, it's much easier to see the pressure being applied and to see how an innocent person might end up looking guilty. In fact, because of this research, New Zealand adopted a national policy that videotaped police interrogations have to focus on both the suspect and the interrogator, so that the video is as fair as possible, as even-handed as possible. This is a great example of moving from theory—in this case, attribution theory— to research on police interrogations, to policy. Research by Shelley Taylor, Susan Fiske, and their colleagues has also found that racial minority members are seen as talking more and being more influential when they're the only minority member in a group than when the group contains other minority members, thereby making the same person seem less salient. Now, of course, when things go well, the effects of salience might be fine, but when there's a problem, when a team is defeated, when a group fails, maybe even when the economy is weak, then people who are salient because they look different or because they sound different are at risk of becoming scapegoated— that is, blamed because their salience makes them seem more causal, makes them seem more responsible. Taylor and Fiske found that this dynamic operates across a wide variety of circumstances. For example, women tend to be seen as more causal when they're the only female in a group than when there are other women in the group, and people are seen as more causal when they rock in a rocking chair rather than sitting motionless, or they sit under a bright light versus a dim light. In fact, some studies have even found that when people are seated in front of a large mirror, they tend to view themselves as disproportionately causal. So, the main point to take away from these studies on salience is that causal attribution is not simply a matter of logical deduction; it's also partly a matter of sensory perception— of what we happen to be looking at at the moment or happen to be hearing at the moment. Again, we're coming back to the psychological construction of reality. Usually, that psychological construction helps us make very accurate causal attributions—usually, but not always. Sometimes we mess up. And that's the topic of our next video.