How Well Do People Know Why They Do The Things They Do

2301 words - 10 pages

How well do people know why they do the things they do?

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Human beings are cognitively advanced, yet it is still surprising that much of what we do we cannot explain. Humans are amongst few mammals capable of the self-recognition necessary for self-awareness which enables conscious manipulation in behaviour (Gallup, G. G., 1982). Understanding the behaviour of others and ourselves is increasingly complex since behaviour is attributed to fluctuating mental states (emotions, desires, feelings). Many papers have begun to cover the theory how people understand the causes of behaviour through attribution and self-concept ...view middle of the document...

Humans are naturally inquisitive and have been likened as “naive scientists”- we want to understand why people behave/appear as they do (Heider, 1958). Evidence from experiments emphasises this need to explain behaviour where individuals formed ‘stories’ for moving shapes. These ‘stories’ or explanations are known as attributions, they are explanations to accompany observations in behaviour (Heider & Simmel, 1994). Attributions can be ‘dispositional’ referring to stable, internal characteristics (e.g. the person IS moody) or ‘situational’ referring to temporary states/situations (e.g. the person is agitated) (Schacter, 2009).For example, people naturally justify overt behaviour (e.g. your partner doesn’t speak when meeting your parents) by assigning attributions –they didn’t speak because they’re unfriendly/ because they became nervous. These attributions are important as they are used to justify why other people do the things they do (Kelley, 1973).

However, this method of matching behaviour with attributions only answers why people behave the way they do to a certain extent, as the assigned attributions may not be objectively true. Here begins the problem of ‘correspondence bias’, that as humans we are receptive but not always accurate. We often mistake situational attributions for dispositional attributions (Schacter,2009)(Heider, 1958). A person is shy therefore doesn't talk and gives less weight to situational attributions -nerves (Ross, L. 1977). This inaccuracy in interpreting others behaviour can be problematic and perhaps highlights that we do not truthfully know why other people do the things they do.
Human brains are typically cognitive-bias; situational reasoning is less automatic than dispositional reasoning and cognitively requires more control (Hamilton, D. L. (1980). If behaviour and disposition weakly match, it is rational to infer the dispositional attribution as the cause of the behaviour. These potential errors in attribution are important as they give rise to sequential behaviour. If a person believes a friend is acting disagreeably because of an internal characteristic future interaction may be avoided (despite the unacknowledged truth of the situational attribution). People believe the attributions they assign to other’s behaviour, they falsely believe that they know why other’s act the way they do.

In order to observe our own behaviour separate of other’s, individuals must be self-aware. Self-perception theory offers the notion that like attribution theory, individuals first observe their own behaviour then conclude the causing attributions (Bem,1972). As human beings we are gifted with rich self-knowledge (Schacter, 2009). Self-awareness begins with distinguishing ourselves from our environment, understanding our thoughts and finally our capability to represent the symbolic self (Sedikides & Skowronski, 1997). In the case of an amnesia patient although she was unable to offer past experiences from...

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