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Conceptual Structure and Social Functions of Behavior Explanations: Beyond Person-Situation Attributions

In Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, (2000), 309-326.

Abstract: The traditional approach to studying behavior explanations involves treating them as either “person causes” or “situation causes” and assessing them via rating scales. An analysis of people’s free-response behavior explanations reveals, however, that the conceptual distinctions people use in their explanations are more complex and sophisticated than the person-situation dichotomy suggests. The authors therefore introduce a model of the conceptual structure of folk behavior explanations (the network of concepts and assumptions on which explanations are based) and test it in four studies. The modes and features of behavior explanations within this conceptual structure also have specific social functions. Two additional studies demonstrate that people alter distinct features of their explanations when pursuing particular impression management goals, and listeners make inferences about explainers’ attitudes based on these features.

To request a copy of this paper, write to me at ‘knobe at email dot unc dot edu.’


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