Living Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine

pp 1-4

Date: Latest Version

Attribution Theory

  • Kevin S. SpinkAffiliated withCollege of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan Email author 
  • , Darren NickelAffiliated withPhysical Medicine & Rehabilitation, University of Saskatchewan Email author 


Causes; Explanations; Failure; Reasons; Success


Attribution theory is concerned with the conventions that individuals use in attempting to explain their behavior (Weiner 1986).


According to one of the main contributors in this area, Bernard Weiner, there is no one single attribution theory. Rather, there are a number of attribution-based theories, and attribution is better described as a field of study than as a single encompassing theory (Weiner 2008). Notwithstanding this clarification, the idea of an attribution-based theory of motivation has been around for years. The premise is simple – interpretation of what caused an outcome is proposed to influence future behavior. In terms of motivation, it has been suggested that individuals seek the causes of outcomes because they want to understand and explain those outcomes and predict future outcomes. As causes are sought for important outcomes, especially those where the outcome was not expected (e.g., individu ...

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