“Because I Love You …” The Tactical Use of Attributional Expressions in Conversation



While attributional processes are traditionally regarded as intrapersonal phenomena, attributional statements are a common feature of interpersonal communication. This study sought to explore the nature of attributions that are used tactically in conversation. Among other tasks, participants were asked to describe conversations in which causal statements had been posited for some “ulterior” purpose—perhaps to evoke an emotion, obtain a behavior, or receive some sort of compliment. Results revealed that the most commonly cited tactical attributions included excuses, justifications, and affiliation moves. Nontactical attributions, in contrast, rarely included affiliation moves. Attributions that were used tactically also tended to focus more frequently on positive events, behaviors, or qualities and tended to emphasize interpersonal, stable sources more often than nontactical attributions. The most frequently perceived goal for tactical attributions was to obtain an object or behavior. Implications for an extension of the literature on accounts are discussed.