Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 288-304.
Abstract: Past attribution research has focused on how people explain behavior; the present paper examines which behaviors people explain. The authors first introduce a general framework of conditions for people’s explanation of an event. This framework, applied to the domain of behavior explanations, then predicts which behavioral events actors and observers tend to explain. The authors distinguish between intentional vs. unintentional and observable vs. unobservable behavioral events, for which the framework yields three hypotheses: (1) Actors wonder more often about unintentional and unobservable behaviors, whereas observers wonder more often about intentional and observable behaviors. (2) In private explanations (directed to onself), actors explain more unintentional and unobservable behaviors, whereas observers explain more intentional and observable behaviors. (3) In communicative explanations (directed to other people), both actors and observers explain more intentional and observable behaviors. These hypotheses are supported in five studies, using thought protocols, memory protocols, personal diaries, natural conversations, and novels. Implications for attribution processes, interpersonal conflict, and intimacy are discussed.