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Describe Kelley’s Covariation Principle Using Examples Of Your Own Choice.

1757 words - 7 pages


Describe Kelley's covariation principle using examples of your own choice.

Harold Kelley's (1921 - 2003) covariation principle (1973) is one of a number of causal attribution theories posited. It aims to explain the way in which laymen seek to better understand, explain and predict why other people, and sometimes themselves, behave in given ways. That is, it seeks to answer laymen questions such as what goals, motives and intentions underlie a given behaviour, what caused the behaviour and whether such behaviour is likely to occur again and if so under what conditions (Baron, Branscombe & Byrne, 2009. pp 86-87). The covariation principle operates on the premise that the layman, referred to from here in as the attributor, has information about behaviour from at least two or more observations (Kelley, 1973). Under these conditions it is assumed that they will be able to observe behaviour (the effect), and attribute it to `one of its possible causes to which it, over time, covaries' (Kelley, 1973). Kelley contended that the attributor's ability to co-vary cause and effect was not dissimilar to the analysis of variance conducted by experimenters' (Kelley, 1973. pg 109). That is to say, the way in which experimenters' statistically deduce that a salient independent variable causes the dependent variable: the effect. This essay will describe and provide examples of Kelley's covariation principle in detail.

The covariation principle assumes that there are three possible causes to which an effect can be attributed: the person, the entity and the circumstances. The three decisive factors to the analysis of attribution are consensus, distinctiveness and consistency. Kelley contended that the varying degree of salience of these is used to give a basis for confidence in judging that an effect can be attributed to one of the causes (Kelley, 1973). The covariation principle presupposes that the attributor is likely to attribute a given effect to a cause in the following way: if consensus is low, meaning not all persons display given effect, then the cause is likely to be attributed to disposition of the person; if distinctiveness is high, meaning the effect is unusual for the observed person, then cause will likely be attributed to the entity and if consistency is low, meaning the person has almost always not exhibited the effect before, the cause will likely be attributed to circumstances.

For example, the attributor observes that Connie has high regard for her teacher, but none of her fellow students exhibit such feelings towards the teacher. Despite this the attributor knows through previous observations that Connie has almost always had high regard for all her teachers and for the current teacher in the past. This implies that consensus to the given effect, high regard towards the teacher, is low, as only Connie demonstrates such feelings. It further implies that Connie's feelings are...

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