Behavior is a reflection of the intentions, attitudes, goals, beliefs, and desires of a person. These intra-individual factors are coordinated with what opportunities the situation affords and the perceived constraints placed on the person by their context and the norms of the culture they are in. Further, the intentions, attitudes, goals, beliefs, and desires of a person are often not known to them in any given moment, and because they reside within the mind of that person they are almost always not known to the people who are perceiving that person. To know anything about other people we must observe and identify/classify their behavior and then attribute to the observed behavior inferences and judgments about the internal states of that person serving as the motivating force behind their behavior. This entry explores this process of attribution. Heider described attribution as the process that determines “how one person thinks and feels about another person, how he perceives him and what he does to him, what he expects him to do or think, how he reacts to the actions of the other.” The entry explores the rules that people follow in order to make sense of behavior, and the rational versus non-rational nature of the procedure. Even when highly motivated to think rationally, this process can be biased, and flaws can appear in the attribution process, such as from chronic differences among perceivers due to culture, experience, or personality. How the process would unfold if accurate and purely rational is contrasted with how it unfolds when biased. How we feel, and how we choose to act, are derived from how we make sense of the world. Thus, attribution processes are foundational for understanding how we feel, for establishing expectations, and planning how to act in turn.
Attributing Inferred Causes and Explanations to Behavior
Gordon B. Moskowitz, Irmak Olcaysoy Okten, and Alexandra Sackett
Kyle G. Ratner
Contemporary models of how the mind operates and methods for testing them emerged from the cognitive revolution in the middle of the 20th century. Social psychology researchers of the 1970s and 1980s were inspired by these developments and launched the field of social cognition to understand how cognitive approaches could advance understanding of social processes. Decades later, core social psychology topics, such as impression formation, the self, attitudes, stereotyping and prejudice, and interpersonal relationships, are interpreted through the lens of cognitive psychology conceptualizations of attention, perception, categorization, memory, and reasoning. Social cognitive methods and theory have touched every area of modern social psychology. Twenty-first-century efforts are shoring up methodological practices and revisiting old theories, investigating a wider range of human experience, and tackling new avenues of social functioning.
Communication Technology and Interpersonal Relationships
Andrew M. Ledbetter
Owing to advances in communication technology, the human race now possesses more opportunities to interact with interpersonal partners than ever before. Particularly in recent decades, such technology has become increasingly faster, mobile, and powerful. Although tablets, smartphones, and social media are relatively new, the impetus behind their development is old, as throughout history humans have developed mechanisms for communicating ideas that transcend inherent temporal and spatial limitations of face-to-face communication. In the ancient past, humans developed writing and the alphabet to preserve knowledge across time, with the later development of the printing press further facilitating the mass distribution of written ideas. Later, the telegraph was arguably the first technology to separate communication from transportation, and the telephone enabled people at a distance to hear the warmth and intimacy of the human voice. The development of the Internet consolidates and advances these technologies by facilitating pictorial and video interactions, and the mobility provided by cell phones and other technologies makes the potential for communication with interpersonal partners nearly ubiquitous. As such, these technologies reconfigure perception of time and space, creating the sense of a smaller world where people can begin and manage interpersonal relationships across geographic distance. These developments in communication technology influence interpersonal processes in at least four ways. First, they introduce media choice as a salient question in interpersonal relationships. As recently as the late 20th century, people faced relatively few options for communicating with interpersonal partners; by the early years of the 21st century, people possessed a sometimes bewildering array of channel choices. Moreover, these choices matter because of the relational messages they send; for example, choosing to end a romantic relationship over the phone may communicate more sensitivity than choosing to do so via text messaging, or publicly on social media. Second, communication technology affords new opportunities to begin relationships and, through structural features of the media, shape how those meetings occur. The online dating industry generates over $1 billion in profit, with most Americans agreeing it is a good way to meet romantic partners; friendships also form online around shared interests and through connections on social media. Third, communication technology alters the practices people use to maintain interpersonal relationships. In addition to placing traditional forms of relational maintenance in more public spaces, social media facilitates passive browsing as a strategy for keeping up with interpersonal partners. Moreover, mobile technology affords partners increased geographic and temporal flexibility when keeping contact with partners, yet simultaneously, it may produce feelings of over-connectedness that hamper the desire for personal autonomy. Fourth, communication technology makes interpersonal networks more visibly manifest and preserves their continuity over time. This may provide an ongoing convoy of social support and, through increased efficiency, augment the size and diversity of social networks.