Chapter Summary

Chapter 15

As we have seen in this chapter, the causal attribution of behaviour is a surprisingly complex affair, and we are far from perfect in our judgements. Partially, this is due to us not having the time or cognitive resources to conduct in-depth analyses. Instead, we are motivated tacticians who rely on heuristics to take mental shortcuts. In the process of doing so, we make ourselves vulnerable to committing a variety of errors, such as the fundamental attribution error. We have also seen how attribution models, theories and errors find practical application in modern real-life research, helping us to understand important societal concerns, such as radicalisation processes in a counter-terrorism context, or how to tackle attitudes to climate change.

We also learned that predicting behaviours by attitudes alone can be challenging. The classic study by LaPierre provides a clear illustration of how attitudes towards minority groups did not predict how people behaved towards them. The theory of planned behaviour was put forward as a way to better predict behaviour. This model considers subjective norms, the consequences of engaging in the behaviour, and the extent to which the person believes they are capable of engaging in the behaviour.

Finally, we looked at prosocial behaviour. Several theories have been offered to explain why individuals engage in helping behaviours. Evolutionary theories suggest that prosocial behaviour is in the interest of species survival, while social theories emphasise the importance of social learning and social norms in encouraging us to act altruistically. We have also seen how prosocial behaviour plays out in the online world.