Relocating attributional phenomena within a language-cognition interface: The case of actors' and observers' perspectives

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Abstract

Two studies are reported which apply a language based model to the actor-observer domain in attribution theory. This model distinguishes between four classes of interpersonal terms (descriptive action verbs, interpretive action verbs, state verbs, and adjectives) that have been shown to mediate different cognitive inferences. An adaptation of this language based model suggests that actor-observer differences can be understood as differential language conventions used by actors and observers. This hypothesis finds support in the first study where subjects were asked to give free descriptions to a number of social events. A second study examined the more specific implications of this general case by replicating an experiment reported by Nisbett et al. (1973). The same language based conventions are shown to be used by actors and observers in this more specific case. The implications of these findings are drawn out with special reference to the influence of culture on cognitive processes.

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