Weiner Attribution Theory

Attribution theory was first developed by Fritz Heider in 1958. But, it was not able to cover every aspect and various different attribution theories were developed. Bernard Weiner, of the University of California at Los Angeles, developed what is now one of the popular theories of attribution.

Weiner’s model of attribution is mainly informative in research on student learning. A simple assumption of Weiner’s model of attributions is that

Learners are affected by both personal factors (i.e. previously learned knowledge and past experiences) and environmental factors (i.e. environment of the home or school). Both these factors are the variables that affect the types of attributions most likely to be made by the individuals.

Bernard Weiner proposed a theory suggesting that a person's own attributions in attempt to explain their success or failure determines the effort they are willing to exert in the future. Affective and cognitive assessment influences the behavior in the future when similar situations are experienced.

Weiner pinpointed a specific attribution that aspects like luck, effort, etc, are not as important as the characteristics of the attribution. This was described as the three casual dimensions, which is the reason for Weiner’s Attribution model being called the Three-Dimensional Model.

Three Casual Dimensions


Locus dimension refers to the perception of the cause of any event as internal or external.

If a learner believes that she failed her math test because she lacked inability, she is referring to her internal attribution. On the other hand, if she blames the teacher to be incompetent, she is referring to the external attribution.

Association with Emotional Responses

This dimension is related to feeling of pride and self-esteem. People feel the sense of pride in their accomplishment, especially when they believe that it was their effort which lead them to success.


Stability dimension refers to whether the cause of the event is stable or unstable across time and situations.

From the previous example, if she believes that she failed her math exam because of her inability in math, the cause is stable. The cause is more stable if she believes that her lack of ability is permanent. On the other hand, if she believes that had she not been sick, she could have aced the test, the cause is unstable, as illness is a temporary factor.

Attributions to permanent factors or stable causes are more likely to lead the learner towards success if the learner experiences success. However, in case of failure, attributions to stable causes are likely to decrease the morale and expectations of the learner in the future.

Association with Emotional Responses

In case of unstable attributions, this dimension is related to feelings of hopelessness or hopefulness. In contrast, for the stable causes, a learner believes that there can be different outcomes I the future.


Controllability dimension refers to whether or not the cause of any event is under the control of the learner.

From the aforementioned examples; if she believes that she could have done better in the test had she practiced more, the cause is controllable. On the other hand, if she doubts her ability in math, the cause is uncontrollable. Environmental or external attributions cannot be considered as controllable.

Association with Emotional Responses

Guilt and shame are the kind of emotions experienced in this dimension. Learners who believe they failed because of their lack of effort experience a sense of guilt. On the other hand, those who deem themselves unworthy are more likely to experience the feelings of shame or similar emotions.

How Attributions Influence Behavior?

The types of attributions individuals choose to make to the causes of the events significantly impact their future behaviors in predictable ways.

Studies have found that academic achievement is improved when the learners attribute their academic outcomes to effort and study techniques rather than factors like lack of ability and health problems.

For instance, a student who blames his lack of effort to failure in examination may be motivated to study harder for the next exam in order avoid the same outcome. However, a student who deems herself incapable of studying lacks motivation and is more likely to fail in the next examination too, solely because of her lack of effort.