The theory of cognitive covariation: what it is and its characteristics

Attribution theories attempt to explain how people interpret events and how they relate them to the way they think and act. Here we will learn more about Harold Kelley’s cognitive covariation theory. (1967).

Through this theory, the cause of an event or a person’s conduct can be determined. Let us know in detail the components and features of the theory.

    The concept of attribution

    Regarding attribution theories, A. Beck (1978) distinguished between attribution and attribution. He defined the wait as the conviction that one fact will accompany another fact (Forward-looking) and attribution as the belief that one fact accompanied another fact (past-oriented).

    Kelley’s theory of cognitive covariation

    Harold Kelley’s theory of covariation (1967) is an attribution model, i.e. it is oriented towards determine the causes of behaviors, facts or events that we observe.

    Kelley states that when there are different events that may be the triggering cause of the same fact, only those that are shown to relate to them consistently over time will be considered the cause of the event.

    Types of information

    The author understands covariation as information from multiple sources about the actor’s behavior (Multiple observations). It would be the relationship between two or more variables.

    He distinguishes in facts or actions two elements: the actor (subject observed, and who performs the action) and the perceiver (subject who receives the action).

    On the other hand, in his theory of cognitive covariation, Kelley establishes three types of information about the past behavior of the observed person (actor) that will determine the type of attribution:

    1. Consent

    Do other subjects perform the same action? If the answer is yes, the consensus will be high.

    In other words, it would be when the subject’s response coincides with the group rule, with the majority.

    2.distinctiveness or differentiation

    Does the actor behave like this with others? If he behaves this way with more people, the distinctiveness or differentiation will be low.In other words, there will be no difference depending on the recipient.

    3. Coherence

    So does the actor behave with the same subject under different circumstances (or over time)? If the answer is yes, there will be high consistency.

    In other words, it would be the recurring representation of the same behavior as long as the same situation is represented.

      causal attributions

      Depending on the combination of these three elements, we can make causal attribution to the person, entity or circumstances. Thus, in the theory of cognitive covariation, they can occur three types of causal attributions:

      1. Causal recognition of the person

      When consensus is low (few subjects other than the actor perform the same action), distinctiveness is low (the actor behaves this way with several) and consistency is high (he always behaves this way). with the same subject or collector in different circumstances or more time).

      For example, a person who always gives money to beggars (unlike his neighbors) all year round. In this case the attribution of the action is the person, that is to say action depends more on it.

      2. Causal recognition of the entity (recipient subject)

      When consensus is high (many subjects other than the actor perform the same action), distinctiveness is high (the actor behaves like this with little or only one), and consistency is high (he always behaves like that with the same subject in different circumstances or over time).

      For example, think of a father who buys Christmas gifts for his children, like most people, and also buys the same number of gifts per child. This act occurs even if the children behaved better or worse during the year. In this case, the causal attribution it will be the entity or the children themselves who will receive the gifts.

      3. Causal recognition of the circumstances

      When the consensus is low (few subjects other than the actor perform the same action), the distinctiveness is high (the actor therefore behaves with little or only one) and the consistency is low (the actor behaves differently with the same subject on which more time).

      For example, a boy who buys a gift for his partner, no one else, and only on special occasions, when no one in the family does (low consensus). Here the event or the fact it will depend more on the circumstances (Special occasions).

      H. Kelley’s causal patterns

      On the other hand, Kelley’s theory of cognitive covariation also addresses another concept: that of causal patterns (This is why it is also called the Kelley covariation and configuration model).

      This other concept in Kelley’s theory, called “configuration”, is information that comes from a single observation (as opposed to covariation, where there were multiple observations). From this information, causal patterns are generated.

      According to Kelley, there are two types of causes in causal patterns:

      1. Several sufficient causes

      they explain normative or moderate effects. Among several causes, it is enough that one or more of them occur for the effect to occur. From these causes, he establishes two principles:

      1. 1. Principle of dismissal or postponement

      Less importance is given to a cause when there are other possible causes of the behavior.

      For example, when a student performs poorly after surgery, poor performance is attributed to health issues, not lack of effort. The cause taken into account is the most outgoing or the most exceptional.

      1. 2. Principle of increase

      The role of a cause it increases if the effect takes place in the presence of an inhibitory cause.

      For example, the good performance of a student when his father is ill; more effort is attributed to this girl than to other students whose circumstances are favorable.

      2. Several necessary causes

      They explain unusual or extreme effects, where several causes must match to be able to explain the effect.

      For example, in very difficult exams where few students get a place, there must be several causes: that the student is motivated, that he has studied a lot, that he has a high academic record and that he is lucky on the exam.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Morales, JF (2007). Social psychology. Published by SA McGraw-Hill / Interamericana de España
      • Hogg, M. and Graham, M. (2010). Social psychology. Posted by Panamericana

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