Using Attributions to Understand the Effects of Explanations on Applicant Reactions: Are Reactions Consistent With the Covariation Principle?1


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    The authors thank Suzanne Masterson, Lynn McFarland, and Ann Marie Ryan and her Research Methods class for their many helpful comments and suggestions on a previous draft of this paper.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Robert E. Ployhart, Department of Management, Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208. E-mail:


Research has shown that explanations for selection decisions may influence a variety of applicant perceptions and behavior, but an understanding of how and why this occurs remains largely unknown. This study attempts to understand the effects of explanations by adopting Kelley's (1967, 1972) covariation model of the attribution process. Specifically, explanations that vary on consensus, distinctiveness, and consistency covariation information should produce predictable effects on applicant perceptions and attributions. Results from 2 studies, the first a laboratory study and the second a field study with actual applicants, support the utility of the covariation model for understanding the influence of explanations for selection decisions on locus attributions, fairness, self-perceptions, and organizational attractiveness. These results suggest that the covariation model may be a useful means to construe the explanation-attribution-perception relationship, and thus provide a number of theoretical and practical implications.