Attribution Theory in Leadership Research

Part of the Contributions to Management Science book series (MANAGEMENT SC.)


Attribution theory is basically dealing with the formation of individual opinions about the reasons of particular events or observations. This also includes opinions about the behavior of other people and about oneself. Attribution theory is usually seen as originating from the work of Heider (1958), Jones and Davis (1965) as well as Kelley (1967, 1972, 1973). It is argued that ordinary people use methods of ascribing reasons to observed events that are similar to the inductive approach used in scientific research. They try to identify the reasons for observed incidents and actions by collecting information which might be helpful for explaining them. More generally, in our everyday life we are constantly trying to form chains of cause and effect that link observed incidents (e.g., a traffic accident or a nervous breakdown of a colleague) and experiences (e.g., failing an exam) to possible reasons. Consequently, attributions are understood to play a crucial role in human categorization processes and, thus, in the reduction of ambiguity. By attributing causes to effects, observed or experienced incidents are linked to certain stimulus categories of the world in our mind. Hence, attributions provide order and increase the ability of a person to understand his/her own behavior and that of others. By linking incidents and actions to concrete reasons, they are interpreted and arranged by the observer. Based on this fact, the individual is then able to determine his/her own behavior.


Leader Behavior Causal Attribution Implicit Theory Attribution Theory Leadership Quality 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dept. Border Region StudiesUniversity of Southern DenmarkSønderborgDenmark

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