Divergence, personalism, and mutual understanding in triadic interaction



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Jones and Eisbett (1971) argued that observers and actors diverge in their attributions to the causes of actors' behavior: actors tend to attribute their behavior to situational causes, while observers tend to explain the actors' behavior by attributing to actors' dispositions. The major objective of the present research was to demonstrate experimentally a decrease in divergence in a relatively realistic interaction setting. A second purpose was to examine the relationships between increased and decreased divergence and other variables which would be more meaningful to subjects. Relationships among the subject variables themselves were also examined. Subjects were tested in triads, which provided the setting for interaction. Each experimental condition was composed of 10 triads. In the "situation/stimulus value" condition, subjects were given oral instruction and a fictitious biographical sketch designed to reorient them away from the usual perceptions of causality which result in divergence between actor and observer (Jones and Eisbett, 1971). The attempt was made to sensitize them to the situations of others (including their own stimulus value for others) as causes of others' behavior. The attempt was made through similar procedures to sensitize subjects in the "trait" condition to intraperaoral traits, or dispositions, as causes of behavior. Although the validity check indicated that the experimental manipulation was quite effective, none of the dependent measures showed any significant differences between treatment conditions. Dependent measures were designed to measure divergence and its conponents (dispositional and situational attribution for observers and actors, and correspondence); personalistic effects (awareness of one's own stimulus value for others and awareness of others' stimulus value for oneself); and "meaning" variables (agreement, feeling understood, accuracy of understanding, and perceived similarity). All measures were derived from ratings of self and two co-participants on 9-point rating scales. Because there were no experimental differences between treatments, subjects were collapsed across triads and independent variables in order to test the basic assumptions of the theory of divergence. Both actors and observers made significantly more dispositional than, situational attributions; actors and observers did not differ in their attributions to situations; there was only marginally significant evidence that observers attributed more dispositiorially than did actors. These results therefore seriously question the occurrence of divergence between actors and observers in either dispositional or situational attribution. Although there were no differences bstween experimental treatments, some interesting relationships between variables were found in a Pearson product-moment correlation matrix which included all measures. The multiple measures of attribution correlated with each other in such a way as to support the purpose of these measures. The variable of perceived similarity was related to two measures of dispositional attribution, the direct measure of awareness of stimulus value, feeling more understood, and agreement with others in viewing one's own behavior. The variable of stimulus value related in the expected manner to other variables: greater awareness of one's own stimulus value correlated with increased attribution to others' situations, as veil as to their dispositions. Greater awareness of the stimulus value of others for oneself appeared to be related to increased alertness to both the situations and the dispositions of others. Given the lack of experimental differences between treatments, the results of the analysis of the assumptions of divergence between actors and observers, and the various relationships of subject variables, it appeared that subjects were operating out of a dispositional framework not only in describing others but in describing themselves. It was suggested that another subject variable, such as internal-external locus of control or self-esteem, might account for both the lack of experimental results, and the correlational results that were obtained. It was further suggested, in line with Bowers (1973), that future research include the person-situation interaction rather than focusing upon Just the situation or the person to the exclusion of the other.