A prevailing area in social psychology is that of attribution theory. Attribution evaluates behaviour; seeking explanations for the decisions that people make about why particular events occurred or why certain individuals acted the way they did. A common sense approach taken by Heider (1958, cited in Augoustinos, 1995) views people as ‘naïve scientists’ deducing the causes of events around them as holding cause and effect relations. People tend to attribute behaviour to a single cause residing either within the actor; ‘dispositional,’ or outside in the situation; ‘situational.’ Ross (1997, cited in Hogg & Vaughan, 2002) identified the ‘fundamental attribution error,’ this refers to a tendency to focus to much on behaviour itself and not enough on the situation or context; overemphasising dispositional causes and underestimating situational ones, even where strong situational pressures exist.
In studies aiming to provide empirical support for attribution theory; in particular fundamental attribution error, the focal point was that of the attributions made by the observer of another persons’ behaviour. Jones & Nisbett (1971, cited in Kimble, 1990) highlighted an important issue, this is the process by which
Experimental approaches to the actor observer effect have been criticised, especially a laboratory one suggesting that it is does not do justice to the complexities of the social world (Fox Prilleltensky, 1997). Heider (1958) referred to this inclination as a "polar tendency in attribution;"tm Jones Nisbett (1972) called it the "actor observer effect"tm (cited in Augoustinos, 1995). Parker (1989) discusses the distinction of the two categories; "person"tm and "situation,"tm suggesting they are too "sharp. This suggests the need for the study of naturally occurring explanations, of which only a few researchers have attempted with little success (Holtzworth-Munroe Jacobson, 1988, cites in Knobe Malle, 1997). Based on the actor-observer effect Storms (1973, cited in Brown, 1986) predicted that if an actor in conversation with a stranger and an individual observing the conversation were asked to explain the actors"tm behaviour they will disagree. This alternative theory challenges the actor observer effect as it explains actors do attribute behaviour internally if it is positive one. Participants are asked to rate the behaviours along several attribution dimensions, the resulting assessments Knobe and Malle (1997) argue apply to the selected behaviours, sometimes not a behaviour people themselves are interested in explaining. Questionnaire assessments of attribution styles also are limited to behavioural events selected by the experimenters, not the participants themselves (Fincham Bradbury, 1992, cited in Knobe Malle, 1997). The first of their hypothesis consisted of two parts; i "actors wondered more often about unintentional than intentional behaviours, whereas observers wondered more often about intentional than unintentional behaviours;"tm ii "actors wondered more often about unobservable than observable behaviours, whereas observers wondered more often about observable than unobservable behaviours. It is unclear on precise definitions of the distinguished attributions proposed by Jones and Nisbett, for example "dispositional"tm might be used to refer any factor that lies within the person such as emotions, or it might be used to refer to specific relative stable person factors such as personality traits. This highlights the importance cultural differences and the difficulty of producing a universal attribution theory, creating a great misunderstanding for cross-cultural interpersonal, this has been shown by Evans-Pritchard (1937, cited in Hogg Vaughan, 2002) where the people of West Africa have a dual theory of causality, where common sense proximal causes operate within the context of witch craft as the distal cause and an internalexternal distinction would make little sense (Hogg Vaughan, 2002). "tm The results of the study supported both parts of the hypothesis. The simplicity of the actor observer effect is highlighted here, with a simple classification of person and situation; it fails to explain why asymmetry arises (Knobe and Malle, 1997). "tm Due to this sharp distinction Parker explains that attributions may be screened out that might be made a person to such things as social relations or shared knowledge. This notion has been supported by Storms (1973, cited in Kimble, 1990), in an experiment participants were showed a video of an earlier conversation they partook, forcing actors to view the situation from the observers"tm perspective and vice versa.