Covariation Model is an attribution theory in which a person tries to explain others’ or her certain behavior through multiple observations. It deals with both social perception and self-perception of the person. It was proposed by Harold Kelley.
An effect is attributed to the one of its possible causes with which, over time, it covaries. (Kelley, 1973:108).
In simple words, a person’s certain behavior is credited to possible causes always seen at the same time. This provides the observer opportunity to observe those causes (attributions) corelating it to the effect seen on the person.
Kelley’s covariation model is also regarded as the best known attribution theory because of his logical model that helped categorize a particular action to internal or external. It is also used in Correspondent Inference Theory. But, since the theory only deals with attributions related to personal behavior, covariation model is only used in internal attribution in case of Correspondent Inference Theory.
The covariation of behavior across different people is regarded as consensus. In simple terms, it refers to the extent to which people behave in similar ways in similar situations. For instance, Shanon chews a gum after each meal. If the friend she is out with also chews gum, her behavior is high in consensus. If her friend doesn’t chew gum, her behavior is low in consensus.
In the case where consensus is high, Shanon’s behavior of chewing a gum is attributed to the circumstance. The circumstance being that her friend also chews gum after meal.
Likewise, when consensus is low, her behavior is attributed by her personal characteristic, which is her habit of chewing the gum after each meal.
It refers to uniqueness of the behavior in any particular situation. The distinctiveness is low if person behaves in the similar manner in all situations and vice versa. For instance, If Shanon chews gum only when she eats outside; distinctiveness of her behavior is high. Likewise, distinctiveness of her behavior is low if she constantly chews gum regardless of the time or place.
In the case where distinctiveness is high, Shanon’s behavior of chewing a gum is attributed to the circumstance. The circumstance being that she chews gum every time she eats outside.
Likewise, when consensus is low, her behavior is attributed by her personal characteristic, which is her habit of chewing the gum regardless of the time or place.
The covariation of the behavior across time is regarded as consistency. In other words, it refers to the extent in which a person behaves in a certain manner every time. For instance, If Shanon needs a gum every time she goes out to eat, consistency is high. Likewise, if she only chews gum when she is out with friends (denoting one special occasion), consistency is low.
In the case where consistency is high, Shanon’s behavior of chewing a gum is attributed to the circumstance. The circumstance being that she chews gum every time she eats out.
Likewise, when consistency is low, her behavior is attributed by her personal characteristic, which is, only chewing the gum when she is out with her friends.
Summary of the Evidences
In the examples mentioned above, our subject is Shanon. Her behavior is chewing gum. Her behavior is thus manipulated to explain the evidences in thorough detail.
So, the result is people attributing casual behaviors on the basis of correlation. In simple terms, when we see that two things go hand in hand, it’s safe to assume that one thing causes the other.
However, there is one problem. We can’t pour our lapse of judgment if we don’t have enough information. Let’s take into consideration that we don’t know Shanon very well. There would be significant lack of information to understand the consistencies of her behavior over time.
In such cases: According to Kelley, we fall back on past experiences and look for one of two things.
1. Multiple necessary causes
E.g: We see Chris Gayle play well and score a century in a match. We assume that he is a highly motivated cricketer who trains hard, and so on. Bottomline, we assume he’s everything needed to win a match for his team.
2. Multiple sufficient causes
E.g: We see Chris Gayle fail a drug test. This leads to reasoning that Gayle must have tried to cheat, or might have been tricked into taking the drug by his coach. Or, it could all have been a pure accident. Any of the reasons would be sufficient.