Attribution of success and failure revisited, or: The motivational bias is alive and well in attribution theory


  • Miron Zuckerman

    1. University of Rochester
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      The author is grateful to Harry T. Reis and Joseph F. Porac for their comments on an earlier draft of this article. Appreciation is also due to Associate Editor Stephen G. West for his detailed editorial advice.

    • Requests for reprints should be sent to Miron Zuckerman, Department of Psychology, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14627.


Do causal attributions serve the need to protect and / or enhance self-esteem? In a recent review, Miller and Ross (1975) proposed that there is evidence for self-serving effect in the attribution of success but not in the attribution of failure; and that this effect reflects biases in information-processing rather than self-esteem maintenance. The present review indicated that self-serving effects for both success and failure are obtained in most but not all experimental paradigms. Processes which may suppress or even reverse the self-serving effect were discussed. Most important, the examination of research in which self-serving effects are obtained suggested that these attributions are better understood in motivational than in information-processing terms.