The Effects of Stress and Personality on the Formation of Causal Attributions
How we attribute behavior can have a profound effect on our analysis of it. For instance, attribution theory, which attempts to clarify why our explanations for a person’s behavior can differ so drastically, holds that we may attribute his or her behavior to dispositional (inner qualities) or situational (environmental) influences. Other factors such as stress and personality type also affect attribution formation, significantly increasing the number of attributions we make and our sense of control in a situation.
Causal Attributions and Stress
Attribution theory arose from the work of Fritz Heider. In ...view middle of the document...
They randomly placed participants in high- or low-stress conditions and had them complete a number-series task. Participants in the high-stress condition were given a more difficult version of the task and a time limit, to ensure they experienced more stress than the other group. All participants then performed a sentence completion task to measure their tendency to form causal attributions. TAPs in the high-stress condition showed the highest level of causal sentence completions. These findings suggest that TAPs, who react more strongly to stress than do TBPs, are more likely than TBPs to form causal attributions.
Several years ago, I refereed a hockey game between teams A and B. I had heard rumors that a team A coach (coach A) had been belligerent towards other on-ice officials. Thus, feeling anxious regarding him, I prepared myself for a challenging game.
Team A was rough and difficult to control. Coach A, too, continually questioned my decisions. Attempting to assert my authority, I began to over compensate, assigning the team many penalties. Finally, a team A player slashed a team B player, causing significant injury. As I had not seen this, I asked coach A for his name. When he became hostile, swearing repeatedly and refusing to cooperate, I became extremely stressed and felt that I had lost control of the situation. This feeling was intensified because I felt that I should have seen the slashing. However, an unwritten rule in referee culture says that a referee must never admit fault during a game. The more our confrontation escalated, the more I focused on my feeling that his failure to manage his players and respect my authority had reduced the game to a shambles.
Attribution, Stress, and Personality in the Hockey Rink
Attributions play a key role in determining the intent of participants in a game, and can be greatly affected by the degree of stress experienced before and during a game. Even before the game started, I knew that coach A had behaved inappropriately towards other officials, a fact which led me to expect the same behavior myself. I attributed his behavior to a dispositional trait—consistent with Kelley’s covariation model of attribution, which predicts how people attribute behavior to either dispositional or situational causes.
My type A personality reacts strongly to stress, so I was very anxious before the game, fearing I could lose control of it. By attributing the coach’s behavior of earlier in the tournament to dispositional causes, I was able to mentally prepare myself to control him when he began to act inappropriately. However, my already high level of anxiety had predisposed me to form causal attributions as an attempt to manage the game, as is suggested by Keinan & Tal.
Given this, I quickly felt that I was losing control of the game. Thus, my stress level continued to rise; I made a greater number of causal attributions regarding team A, expressing these in the form...