Attribution Theory: Interpreting Successes and Failures

Attribution theory is a concept used to analyze a person’s reaction or motivation towards a certain event. The theory can be used to understand and contextualize a person’s actions, thoughts, feelings, or motivations. The Attribution theory is based on the belief that the things people attribute to their success or failure have significant meaning. It is generally believed that if an individual is not good at a particular task, they are more likely to blame external factors, such as other people, possible distractions, or any other concept that may seem related (Rosser-Majors, 2017). However, when a person is good at performing a job of some kind, they attribute the success to internal factors more often. This principle can be witnessed in a variety of situations, in both casual and professional environments. Originally, the theory was devised by personality psychologists, who were trying to understand what qualities make each individual unique (Rosser-Majors, 2017). The main goal of the scientist’s work was to understand why some people are affected by similar life events in a different way. Attribution theory was born out of a belief that both nature and nurture play a role in human development, stating that humans attempt to derive meaning from their experiences. The ways in which humans interpret events are dependent on their personality and past experiences, making each person’s assessment of an occurrence unique.

People will inevitably interpret both successes and failures in ways that reflect their past experiences. Taking this theory into account, one can understand that the person’s perception of self plays a large role in succeeding in life and accomplishing set goals. An individual’s outlook on their intelligence, performance, and abilities dictates how they might react to positive and negative experiences. A pessimistic, self-conscious person is more likely to attribute their success to factors outside of their influence.

Most of the explanations for successes and failures can be understood through three distinct dichotomies. First one is the Locus of control, dictating whether a person believes their outcomes can be attributed to personal characteristics or outside circumstances. Stability is the second factor, determining whether the causes for the outcome can be changed or are static. The last polarity is controllability, indicating is the person considers the outcome to be alterable by their own effort or not. Two last dichotomies are especially important to consider in the context of learning. Stability comes in the form of a task’s difficulty, which is unchanging. However, a person can increase their knowledge and skill level, making the task easier. The fact that ability is alterable and can be improved with effort can be useful to students. Those that rely on their abilities and strive to improve them have better chances of success. Controllability can also be used to promote improved learning, from the teacher’s point of view. Since task difficulty and ability are not subject to change once the task has been completed, it leaves the only effort as a variable that can be used for self-improvement. Teachers are advised to teach strategic effort by presenting failure as a learning opportunity.

In the case of my personal experience with the attribution theory, there were a number of events that made me unnecessarily blame another person. I have once left a full teapot on an open flame, forgetting that I did so because I was talking with a friend. While the person had no involvement, I felt guilty and embarrassed for getting carried away with the conversation and ruining the teapot. While putting blame on another person, I felt like I did not have to take personal responsibility and feel remorse over my negligence. I have grown and learned since then, attempting to better embrace my own shortcomings and attempting to do better next time. I always make sure to carefully access the situation and think before preemptively blaming anybody but myself.

Work Cited

Rosser-Majors, Michelle. (2017). Theories of learning: An exploration.

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PsychologyWriting. (2023, August 4). Attribution Theory: Interpreting Successes and Failures. Retrieved from


PsychologyWriting. (2023, August 4). Attribution Theory: Interpreting Successes and Failures.

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"Attribution Theory: Interpreting Successes and Failures." PsychologyWriting, 4 Aug. 2023,


PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'Attribution Theory: Interpreting Successes and Failures'. 4 August.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Attribution Theory: Interpreting Successes and Failures." August 4, 2023.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Attribution Theory: Interpreting Successes and Failures." August 4, 2023.


PsychologyWriting. "Attribution Theory: Interpreting Successes and Failures." August 4, 2023.