Attribution Theory

From IS Theory
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This site is sponsored by the University of Colorado



Alternate name(s)


Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Behavior, Affect & Expectancy

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

Information, Beliefs & Motivation

Concise description of theory

Attribution theory is the study of the process by which people associate causes to events and the outcomes that they experience (Kelley and Michela 1980). This association is termed as perceived causation and the outcomes are termed as consequences of such perception. A major goal of the attributional process is to understand, organize, and form meaningful perspectives about outcomes and to predict and control them with appropriate behavior. There are mainly two kinds of attributions: internal attribution & external attribution. Internal attribution refers to interpreting a person’s behavior caused due to internal characteristic such as altruism, motivation, etc., whereas external attribution refers to interpreting behavior caused due to external characteristic such as cohesion, compliance, etc., Any kind of attribution will have the antecedents (Information, Beliefs, or Motivation), the attribution (perceived cause) and the consequences (behavior, affect or expectancy). It is with an antecedent the subject forms an attribution (could be either internal or external) that leads to the consequences.

Diagram/schematic of theory


Originating author(s)

Fritz Heider

Seminal articles

Heider, G. (1946). Attitudes and cognitive organization. Journal of Psychology, 21., 107-112.

Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley

Kelley HH (1967). Attribution theory in social psychology. In D. Levine (Ed.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (University of Nebraska Press) pp. 192–240

Shaver, Kelly G. (1970). "Defensive Attribution: Effects of Severity and Relevance on the Responsibility Assigned for an Accident". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 14 (2): 101–113.

Pettigrew (1979). "The ultimate attribution error: Extending Allport's cognitive analysis of prejudice, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 5 (4): 461–476. doi:10.1177/014616727900500407.

Kelley HH, Michela JL (1980) Attribution theory and research. Annu Rev Psychol 31:457–501

Kunda, Ziva (1999), Social Cognition: Making Sense of People. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Swanson SR, Kelley SW (2001) Attributions and outcomes of the service recovery process. J Mark Theory Pract 9(4):50

Originating area

Social Psychology

Level of analysis


IS articles that use the theory

Kelley, Helen; Compeau, Deborah; and Higgins, Chris, "Attribution Analysis of Computer Self-Efficacy" (1999). AMCIS 1999 Proceedings. 270.

Pan, G. Pan, S. L. and Newman, M. (2007), Information systems project post‐mortems: Insights from an attribution perspective. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci., 58: 2255-2268. doi:10.1002/asi.20693

Snead, K. C.; Magal, S. R.; Christensen, L. F. & Ndede-Amadi, A. A. Attribution Theory: A Theoretical Framework for Understanding Information Systems Success, Systemic Practice and Action Research, volume 28,3, 273-288, doi: 10.1007/s11213-014-9328-x

Standing, C., Guilfoyle, A., Lin, C. and Love, P. (2006), "The attribution of success and failure in IT projects", Industrial Management & Data Systems, Vol. 106 No. 8, pp. 1148-1165.

Pan, Gary and Flynn, Donal, "Why Information Systems Project Postmortems Fail: An Attribution Perspective Based on a Case Study Analysis" (2003). ICIS 2003 Proceedings. 31.

Henry, John W. and Stone, Robert W. (2001) "The roles of computer self-efficacy, outcome expectancy, and attribution theory in impacting computer system use, " Journal of International Information Management: Vol.10: Iss. 1, Article 1. Available at:

Mark J. Martinko, Robert W. Zmud & John W. Henry (1996) An attributional explanation of individual resistance to the introduction of information technologies in the workplace, Behaviour & Information Technology, 15:5, 313-330, DOI: 10.1080/014492996120085a

DAVIS, F. D., "A Technology Acceptance Model for Empirically Testing New End-User Information Systems: Theory and Results," Doctoral dissertation, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1986.

Links from this theory to other theories

External links

Original Contributor(s)

Mukesh Narmetta

Please feel free to make modifications to this site. In order to do so, you must register.

Return to Theories Used in IS Research