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Cause and Effect

Schiffman, Harold; Wynne, Ronald D.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Memorandum
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Affective Behavior, Attribution Theory, Emotional Response, Interpersonal Attraction


When individuals process information about events, the perceived causes of the event both affect, and are affected by, emotions. This study attempted to demonstrate that individuals attribute causes or explanations of events to persons or to the environment, as a conjoint function of whether they like or dislike the individuals involved, and whether the event is positive or negative. Four predictions were tested. Causes would be attributed to persons when they are liked and the event is positive; or when the persons are disliked and the event is negative. Causes would be attributed to the environment when the persons are liked and the event is negative, or when the persons are disliked and the event is positive. Projective pictures from the Tomkins-Horn Picture Arrangement Test were administered to forty male and female student nurses. In a second experiment, they imagined something happening to a known person, and wrote an explanation. Three of the four predictions were confirmed in both experiments. However, when the feelings about the person were negative and the event was positive, the results were mixed: using the projective pictures, the cause was attributed outside the person. In the second experiment, the cause was attributed equally to the person and to the environment. In the fourth scenario, which is common, subjects deal with conflicting information. Interpretation of the responses provides information about the individual.

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