- Thomas F. PettigrewThomas F. PettigrewUniversity of California, Santa Cruz, Department of Psychology
Intergroup attribution refers to causal attributions that people make about the behavior of out-groups and their own in-group. Attribution theory began in the late 1950s and 1960s. This initial interest was limited to how individuals causally interpreted the behavior of other individuals. But in the 1970s social psychologists began to consider causal attributions made about groups. The guiding theory for research in this area has been largely structured by the predictions of the ultimate attribution error (more accurately described as the intergroup attribution bias). Its principal contentions flow from phenomena already uncovered by attribution research on individual behavior. It holds that group attributions, especially among the highly prejudiced, will be biased for the in-group and against out-groups. Ingroup protection (explaining away negative ingroup behavior as situationally determined – “given the situation, we had to act that way”) is typically a stronger effect than ingroup enhancement (accepting positive ingroup behavior as dispositionally determined – “as a people, we are kind and compassionate toward other groups”). Many moderators and mediators of the effect have been uncovered. Asian cultures, for example, tend to be less prone to the intergroup attribution bias, while strong emotions can induce either more or less of the bias. Similarly, empathy and special training can significantly reduce the bias. Together with such closely related processes as the fundamental attribution error and actor-observer asymmetry, the intergroup attribution bias has proven highly useful in a great variety of applications. Moreover, the intergroup attribution bias serves as an integral component of the intergroup prejudice syndrome.