Kelley's cube

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An influential contribution to attribution theory, formulated by the US psychologist Harold H. Kelley (1921–2003) and first published in the Nebraska Symposium on Motivation in 1967, according to which people integrate three types of information in explaining an observed item of behaviour: consensus, the proportion of other people who have performed the same behaviour, providing an estimate of how unusual the behaviour in question is; consistency, the extent to which the behaviour is typical of the past behaviour of the person in similar situations; and distinctiveness, the extent to which the behaviour is peculiar to the particular situation in which it occurred. For example, a person may observe a friend losing her temper in response to her mother criticizing her in public, and the observer may judge this behaviour to be low on consensus (unusual for people in general), high in consistency (typical of that woman in that type of situation), and low in distinctiveness (something that she does in many other situations as well). Each of the three variables can be judged to be high or low, leading to eight possible combinations, often depicted as a 2 × 2 × 2 cube (see illustration). According to Kelley, observers tend to attribute behaviour to internal, dispositional causes within the actor when consensus is low, consistency is high, and distinctiveness is low, as in the example; conversely, observers tend to attribute behaviour to external, situational causes when consensus is high, consistency low, and distinctiveness high. Also called Kelley's ANOVA model. See also attribution, causal schema, covariation principle, fundamental attribution error, self-serving bias.

Kelley's cube. The shaded cell indicates low consensus, high consistency, and low distinctiveness (see text).

Subjects: Psychology.

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