An Attributional Analysis of Social Accounts: Implications of Playing the Blame Game1


  • 1

    Portions of this article were presented at the Academy of Management Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, August 1996. The authors give special thanks to Nalini Ambady, Jane Dutton, Jasook Koo, participants of Wharton's third annual Organizational Behavior Mini-Conference, and two anonymous reviewers.

2 Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Fiona Lee, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 525 E. University, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1109.


These studies proposed that effective social accounts should contain external, unstable, specific, and uncontrollable attributions. In Study I, managers provided accounts for a negative event. The accounts contained highly unstable and specific attributions but, contrary to original predictions, they also contained highly internal and controllable attributions. In Study 2, managers rated the effectiveness of the account. Account effectiveness was positively related to unstable attributions, but was negatively related to external and uncontrollable attributions. These relationships were stronger (more negative) for accounts communicated downward than upward. These results indicate that blaming others or deflecting personal responsibility for negative events may be ineffective, especially when one is in a high-status role.