Correspondent Inference Theory

This theory was formulated by Edward E. Jones and Keith Davis in 1965, which accounts for a person's inferences about an individual's certain behavior or action. The major purpose of this theory is to try and explain why people make internal or external attributions.


Internal or Dispositional attribution is more focused in this theory. In fact, situational or external causes of any actions are not dealt here.

Jones and Davis believed that people paid attention to intentional behavior rather than accidental ones. However, in order to believe that any action was intentional, the perceiver must also believe three criteria.

  • The actor (person who performs the action) is fully aware of the consequences of the actions.
  • He/she is able to perform the action.
  • The actor deliberately performed the action.

The correspondent inference theory helps us properly understand the internal attribution. Internal attribution is easily understandable because of the correspondence we see between motive and behavior.

For instance, a person can be either perceived as a friendly person, or just behaving in a friendly manner.

Covariation Model is also used within the Correspondent Inferrence Theory. The evidences and aspects of covariation model are used when one attributes behavior to the person rather than the situation.

The theory thus explains the conditions under which we propose dispositional attributes to those behaviors we perceive as intentional.

Davis used the term correspondent inference to refer to an occasion when an individual observes that an actor’s action corresponds with his personality. Thus, the term is often used as the alternative to Dispositional or Internal attribution.

Factors affecting Correspondent Interference

Choice

The choice made by a person in performing an action is one of the factors in inferring his disposition.

Example: John is tasked to debate in favor of Capitalism. It would be unfair in part of the audience/perceiver to judge John as a capitalist. However, if John had chosen to argue in favor of Capitalism instead of, say – democracy, it would be agreeable to infer that John’s statements reflect his true beliefs.

Despite the vital importance of choice when it comes to inference of an actor, it’s quite common for audience/perceiver to disregard choice while judging someone’s attributes. Whether any statements made by John are his own or is he forced to express them because of the situational compulsion is often misunderstood.

Social Desirability

Rather than social desirability, lack of it is seen to be more fruitful when it comes to inferring a person’s internal attributes. This is mainly because people are more likely to behave in a socially desired way.

Example: A doctor, or a teacher behaving in a normal way, like they should, does not tell us anything about how they really are. However, if a teacher behaves unusually harsh to his/her students, then it might be more expressive of their personal attributes.

Likewise, a bus passenger sitting on the floor rather than the seat depicts his personality.

Expectancies

Failure to meet the expectancies is more informative about a person. There are two types of expectancies.

  • Category-based: This is based on the idea we form about certain groups or types of people.
    Example: You were surprised to see a group of priests in a bar. The general idea is that priests don’t drink and they always pray.
  • Target-based: This is based on the knowledge about a certain person.
    Example: Finding out that a person idealizes Mahatma Gandhi sets up certain expectations about his attitudes and character.

Non-Common Effects

Correspondent inference about dispositional attributes of a person can also be done by comparing the action chosen by the actor in relation to the consequences of possible alternatives. Fewer the differences in the choices, harder the inference becomes. Increasing number of non-common effects makes inference easier.

Example: A person chooses to go to Caribbean for vacation instead of Brazil. The choice here is quite similar, as both the places are close to the ocean and feature plenty of beaches. Since both the spots are ideal for beach vacation, it becomes harder for a perceiver to infer the dispositional attributes of the person behind his reasons to go to Caribbean.

However, if a person chooses Caribbean instead of Nepal, then inference becomes significantly easier. Two places are completely different, and it can be concluded that the actor prefers beaches and summer rather than the mountains and natural beauty of Nepal.

Hedonistic Relevance

The tendency to attribute a behavior to the actor’s dispositional rather than the situations is called hedonistic relevance, even if the situation is completely out of control of the actor.

Example: Sharon trips and spills her beer on John’s carpet. John holds Sharon responsible rather than taking into account that the carpet was uneven.

Personalism

When a person’s behavior impacts us, we automatically assume that the behavior was intended and personal, even if it was simply a by-product of the situation we are both in.

Example: Jack and John are walking on the mountains, and they only have few drops of water left. Out of thirst Jack drinks when John’s not looking. John automatically assumes that Jack wanted to deprive him of the last few drops of water, ignoring the fact that it was the situation which forced Jack into performing such action.