The Theory Of Cognitive Covariation: What It Is, And Characteristics

Cognitive covariation theory

Attribution theories attempt to explain how people interpret events and how they relate them to their way of thinking and acting. Here we will learn about Harold Kelley’s Theory of Cognitive Covariation (1967).

Through this theory the cause of an event or behavior of a person can be determined. We are going to know in detail the components and characteristics of the theory.

The concept of attribution

In relation to attribution theories, A. Beck (1978) differentiated between expectation and attribution. He defined expectation as the conviction that one fact will accompany another fact (future-oriented), and attribution as the conviction that one fact has accompanied another fact (past-oriented).

Kelley’s Cognitive Covariation Theory

Harold Kelley’s (1967) theory of covariation is an attribution model, that is, it is oriented to determine the causes of the behaviors, facts or events that we observe.

Kelley establishes that when there are different events that can be the triggering cause of the same event, only those that are shown to be consistently related to it over time will be considered as the cause of the event.

Types of information

The author understands covariation as information from multiple sources about the actor’s behavior (multiple observations). It would be the relationship between two or more variables.

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Distinguishes two elements in facts or actions: the actor (observed subject who performs the action) and the perceiver (subject who receives the action).

On the other hand, in his Theory of Cognitive Covariation, Kelley establishes three types of information about the past behavior of the observed person (actor) that will determine the type of attribution:

1. Consensus

Do other subjects perform the same action? If the answer is yes, the consensus will be high.

That is, it would be when the subject’s response coincides with the group rule, with the majority.

2. Distinctiveness or differentiation

Does the actor behave like this with others? If you behave like this with more people, there will be low distinctiveness or differentiationthat is, there will be no differences depending on the perceiver.

3. Consistency

Does the actor behave this way with the same subject in different circumstances (or over time)? If the answer is yes, there will be high consistency.

That is, it would be the recurring representation of the same behavior whenever the same situation is represented.

Causal attributions

Depending on the combination of these three elements, we can make a causal attribution to the person, the entity or the circumstances. Thus, in the Theory of cognitive covariation, there can be three types of causal attributions:

1. Causal attribution to the person

When consensus is low (few subjects other than the actor perform the same action), distinctiveness is low (the actor behaves this way with many) and consistency is high (he always behaves this way with the same subject or perceiver in different circumstances or at different times). the long of the time).

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For example, a person who always gives money to beggars (unlike his neighbors) throughout the year. In this case the attribution of the action is the person, that is, the action depends to a greater degree on it.

2. Causal attribution to the entity (perceiving subject)

When consensus is high (many subjects other than the actor perform the same action), distinctiveness is high (the actor behaves this way with few or only one) and consistency is high (he always behaves this way with the same subject in different circumstances). or over time).

For example, consider a father who buys Christmas gifts for his children, just like most people, and also buys the same number of gifts per child. This act also occurs even if the children have behaved better or worse during the year. In this case, the causal attribution It will be the entity or the children themselves who receive the gifts.

3. Causal attribution to circumstances

When consensus is low (few subjects different from the actor perform the same action), distinctiveness is high (the actor behaves this way with few or only one) and consistency is low (the actor behaves differently with the same subject than the actor). over time).

For example, a boy who buys a gift for his partner, and no one else, and only on special occasions, while no one in the family does it (under consensus). Here the event or fact will depend more on the circumstances (special occasions).

H. Kelley’s causal schemes

On the other hand, Kelley’s theory of cognitive covariation also addresses another concept: that of causal schemes (that’s why it is also called Kelley’s covariation and configuration model).

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This other concept in Kelley’s theory, called “configuration,” is about information that comes from a single observation (as opposed to covariation, where there were multiple observations). From this information, causal schemes are generated.

According to Kelley, there would be two types of causes in causal schemes:

1. Multiple sufficient causes

They explain normative or moderate effects. Among several causes, it is enough for one or some of them to occur for the effect to occur. Based on these causes, it establishes two principles:

1. 1. Principle of dismissal or discount

Less importance is attributed to a cause when there are other possible causes for the behavior.

For example, when a student performs poorly after surgery, the poor performance is attributed to health problems and not to a lack of effort. The cause taken into account is the most salient or exceptional.

1. 2. Augmentation principle

The role of a cause increases if the effect occurs in the presence of an inhibitory cause.

For example, a student’s good performance while her father is sick; More effort is attributed to that girl compared to other students with favorable circumstances.

2. Multiple necessary causes

They explain unusual or extreme effects, where several causes must occur to explain the effect.

For example, in very difficult competitions where few students obtain a place, several reasons must exist: the student must be motivated, have studied a lot, have a high academic record and be lucky in the exam.

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