As a young man Benjamin Franklin described 13 virtues that he wanted to cultivate. He then devoted the rest of his life to building them into himself. Franklin confessed to not live completely by his virtues, he believed the attempt made him a better man and contributed to his success and happiness. This is why, in his autobiography, he devoted more pages to this plan than to any other single point.
The results of Fanklin’s plan are astonishing. Reading the lists of achievements of this great man is to be amazed. He was a colossus of a figure.
Benjamin Franklin attributed his personal character to being within his control and something over which he could exercise volitional effort. This belief gave him the motivation to do something about his personal behaviour and characteristic when so many of us (I’m looking at myself here) believe our negative characteristics are outside our control.
Attribution theory describes how humans process events and circumstances and its influence over their behaviour. It postulates that people look for explanations of behaviour, theirs or that of someone else, by “looking for explanations of behaviour, associating either dispositional (internal) attributes or situational (external) attributes.”
Attribution literally means the ‘granting of responsibility. The mental interpretation people draw about their control over circumstances and situations has a profound implication for their motivation and behaviour.
The initial idea was expressed as:
“Men behave as amateur scientists in social situations. He also said that, we generally explain behavior in two ways; either we attribute the behavior to a person or a situation.”
This was put forward in the book, The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations, by Fritz Heider in 1958. According to Heider, attribution takes a three step process. These steps involve a person:
(1) Perceiving an action;
(2) Judging the intent of the action; and
(3) Attribution a disposition (either internal or external) to the action.
However, it was another psychologist, Bernard Weiner, who created the framework that is most often used. Expressing attribution theory in terms of students, Weiner theorized students would attribute their successes or failures in terms of three dimensions:
- locus (location of the cause internal or external to the person);
- stability (whether the cause stays the same or can change); and
- responsibility (whether the person can control the cause).
The basic principle of attribution theory as it applies to motivation is that a person’s own perceptions or attributions for success or failure determine the amount of effort the person will expend on that activity in the future.
Benjamin Franklin viewed his personal character to be within his control and to be stable. He then decided that the responsibility for developing his character was his personal responsibility (not his parents, not Gods, not societies).
How many people do that? Isn’t the common belief that who we are, as a person, is something that happens to us and is outside of our control? I know I’ve believed it!