The Protestant Work Ethic and Attributions of Responsibility: Applications of the Triangle Model1


  • 1

    These data were collected as part of the first author's doctoral dissertation requirements, supervised by Barry R. Schlenker, at the University of Florida. We thank committee members Lisa M. Brown, Benjamin Karney, Shari Ellis, and Michael Weigold, each of whom offered valuable input into this research. Mark Walter, Andrew Baum, and two anonymous reviewers also offered valuable suggestions on previous versions of this article.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Andrew N. Christopher, Department of Psychology, Albion College, KC #4779, 611 E. Porter Street, Albion, MI 49224. E-mail:


According to the triangle model of responsibility, responsibility is a psychological adhesive that links an actor to a set of prescriptions for behavior and to relevant events. To test predictions from the model about the antecedents and consequences of responsibility, and also to test hypotheses about how the Protestant work ethic (PWE) is related to judgments of responsibility, participants made attributions about characters in achievement situations. PWE scores were associated with attributions of stronger links, greater personal responsibility, greater expected success, and more negative reactions to a possible failure. Further, PWE predicted responsibility even after statistically controlling for judgments of obligation, control, and clarity. The findings help to clarify why the PWE is associated with the tendency to make internal attributions for social ills such as unemployment.