Category Archives: Psychology

But Why?


Our internal monologue is programmed to make judgements and connections about the world around us. We almost create stories in our head about what people are doing and why. These “causes” that we create are called attributions. These attributions that we assign to different situations are what decide how we react and interpret behaviour, either our own or the behaviour of others.


There are many different aspects of attribution theory, and Weiner describes 3 different dimensions:

  • Locus – the location of responsibilitypicture1
    • Internal – believes self to be the cause
      • genetics etc
    • External – believes cause lies in the environment around them
      • family, luck etc
  • Stability – duration
    • Stable – fixed, unchanging situation
      • outcome likely to stay the same
    • Unstable – changeable, not constant
      • outcome likely to be different
  • Control
    • Controllable – has ability to change behaviour
      • personally accountable
    • Uncontrollable – unable to change/affect what is happening
      • blames other people or luck etc

The above image is a simplistic model, but explains the correlation between these factors quite well. For example, if a person believes they are what affects test scores (internal) and that their test scores are always similar (stable), then they believe the cause of this is a natural ability for maths. However, if a person believes that other people are the reason for their success or failure (external), and their results are often varied (unstable), then the person will put their success or failure down to luck (or lack of it).

These attributions often correlate with one’s emotions, or affective responses. 

captureThis table shows how both internal and external attributions can affect how we feel about our success or failure, for example, if we feel that we have cause our success then we feel proud of ourselves and confident for future attempts. However, if we feel that we have ourselves caused failure, then we feel guilty and unlikely to have a positive outlook on future experiences. Using experiences and attributes in this manner is called expectancy beliefs – where our motivation for future attempts is affected by the outcome of our current attempt. A feeling of confidence in out ability at this stage will motivate us to try further activities.

Motivation plays a huge role in attribution theory – the attributes we give behaviours can affect how motivated we are to repeat these behaviours. This is often linked to the perceived vs the actual attributes of a situation i.e. how a person themselves sees the situation.

Motivation is split into two strands: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is the type we should try to instill into our pupils – a desire to do something for the goal of achievement and knowing you have completed the task. Extrinsic is the opposite of this, where reward systems are put in place, so the goal of a task is to complete is to get the reward. It is often this type of motivation that is seen in schools through the use of sticker charts and points systems. The motivation we have, and ultimately the students in our classes have, determines how we approach future tasks.


The clip below outlines attribution theory and looks at it from a teacher’s perspective:


Timeline of Neuroscience

1905 – Alfred Binet

1909 – Harvey Cushing is first to electrically stimulate human sensory cortex.

1912 – IQ developed by William Stern

1920 – Watson and Rayner – Little Albert experiment about classical conditioning

1932 – Adrian and Sherrington share Nobel Prize for their work on the function of neurons

1936 – Egas Moniz publishes work on the first human frontal lobotomy

1938 – Skinner describes operant conditioning in “The Behaviour of Organisms”

1948 – The World Health Organization is founded (WHO)

1953 – Milner discusses patient HM – loss of hippocampal surgery

1969 – Society for Neuroscience formed

1981 – Roger Walcott Sperry awarded Nobel Prize for his work on the functions of the brain hemispheres

2013 – Barack Obama announces Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN)