Dispositional Attributions and Deterioration of Trust Following Transgression: the Role of Perceived Intent and Outcome Severity



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Research to date has shown that trust and trustworthiness are among the most damaged positive states of a relationship when transgressions occur (Robinson, 1996; Sitkin & Roth, 1993). Across studies, scholars from different disciplines have relied largely on an investigator-imposed distinction between transgressions stemming from a lack of integrity or a lack of competence to understand how and when trust can be restored. While not suggesting that this distinction between integrity and competence transgressions is either unimportant or artificial, the proposed research will address a fundamental precursor to victims’ reactions to the differences between them. The dissertation will attempt to understand how an offended party’s underlying causal attributions about a transgressor’s integrity and competence are formed. To address this issue, the study will attempt to answer the basic question of whether there are other more natural distinctions between transgressions that determine its consequences for trust. More specifically, the dissertation posits that two key variables (perceived intent and outcome severity) substantially determine whether a particular transgression is attributed to a transgressor’s integrity or to competence. And, subsequently, these two variables will provide supplemental predictive power for understanding post-transgression levels of trust. Hypotheses were tested using a 3x2 factorial design that manipulated intent (intent, no intent) and outcome severity (mild, moderate, severe). Results of analysis of variance indicated that intent had an overwhelming effect on perceived integrity and trust. Unexpectedly, it had an effect on perceived competence as well; however, the results of analyses that compared dependent Cohen’s d measures of effect sizes unambiguously showed that the influence of intent on perceptions of integrity was significantly stronger than its influence on perceptions of ability. Outcome severity did not have any significant effect on the outcomes, nor did it moderate the relationship between intent and trust.



Trust, Attributions, Integrity, Intent