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Situational approach

Social Psychology explores how our behavior changes based on different situations. This is known as the situational approach. It suggests that external factors, rather than internal traits, influence our actions. We make attributions about behavior, which can be internal or external. External attribution considers consistency, distinctiveness, and consensus to understand if a situation affects behavior. Created by Shreena Desai.

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  • marcimus pink style avatar for user Lisa Victor
    I'm a bit confused about some of the factors of and the overall meaning of attribution. In the examples given in this video, I had a difficult time understanding what differentiates an internal from an external attribution. Can anyone give me another set of examples that could give me a clearer understanding of these two concepts? Thanks!
    (17 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user itzbri0792
      An attribution is a way to explain the behavior of some one in a certain situation. Their behavior may be due to internal or external factors. The situation approach says that the behavior is due to (or can be attributed to) that particular situation which is an external factor. In order to figure out if the attribution is in fact external you can use the situational approach by asking :
      1. Does the person behave this way in every situation (consistency)? If yes than the attribution may be internal (ex: temperament).
      2. Does the person behave differently in different situations? (distinction)
      3. Would someone else behave the same way in a similar situation? (consensus)
      If yes to 2+3 than the attribution may be external= due to the situation.
      ex: Some one may be so gentle as to never hurt a fly however if they are put in a situation where they feel their family's safety is threatened they may kill the virgin Mary if it means saving their family and you might do the same. >>external attribution
      However if they are a consistently violent person than you might say the act was just due to the fact that they are a violent person. >>internal attribution
      (62 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Jimmy Zhang
    What is actually happening in this video? I am totally confused.
    (27 votes)
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    • leafers tree style avatar for user justincoley
      It is describing how to attribute the behavior of an individual to factors, namely, internal or external factors. Internal factors are aspects specific to an individual, like intelligence or temperament, and external factors are aspects of the environment, or situation that the person is in. When making the attribution, there are three things to take into consideration: Consistency, which is how often a person performs a given behavior in different situations, distinctiveness, which is the tendency of the person to behave differently in distinct situations and the distinctness of the given situation, and consensus, which is the tendency of others to behave similarly in the same situation. If consistency is met, then the specific situation (external factors) aren't really determining the behavior because the individual behaves that way in many different situations and the behavior is more attributable to an internal cause. However, if distinctness and consensus are met, then the behavior is more attributable to the given situation.
      (10 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Mr. Chamberlain
    I think it would be helpful if Khan taught instructors how to use a microphone. I'm not saying this as a joke but the audio is poor. I have a bose system and it's on the cusp of blowing my speakers out on low volume.
    (28 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Andrew Lu
    Nominate this video for "Worst Khan Academy Video"
    (12 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Liza Raffi
    Isn't her description of consistency actually the same as her description of distinctiveness, but phrased differently? I was under the impression that consistency describes whether a person consistently exhibits the behavior in a specific situation, and thus positive consistency supports external attribution.
    (3 votes)
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  • piceratops tree style avatar for user Thinh Nguyen
    So if only distinctiveness checks out. In other words if a person only behaves that way in a certain situation, but with no consensus (not many ppl behave that way in that certain situation) then the behavior is still internal? or is it just not external?
    (3 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Austin DW
      I'm not a social psychologist but my best guess would be that this is also an external attribute as well. The person is behaving in a distinct way due to the environment. Internal attributes are consistent attributes about a person that do not vary with situation. I am not exactly sure why consensus is needed for it to be an external attribute, honestly. However, it may be because they are just obeying "social norms" -- for example, if they are acting completely abnormal in a particular situation, its possible they have some sort of psychological issue, which would be an internal factor? Such as, if they saw a snake, and began dancing out of fear?
      (2 votes)
  • starky tree style avatar for user Wesley
    'You can't judge a book by it's cover' means that the appearance of a publication does not indicate the quality of the writing. The situational approach has to do with one's actions in a given situation not being representative of one's internal state. So I think this is a bit of a misleading analogy.

    Also, I don't believe situationalists would agree that you can learn more about a person by observing more of his or her situations. If I'm not mistaken, aren't situationalists against the idea of an internal personality altogether?
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user R
    So does this mean that consistency is the opposite of distinctiveness?? Since in the case of consistency, someone will have the same behavior in different situations and in case of distinctiveness, he/she will have diff behavior.
    (2 votes)
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Joseph Frimpong
    What did the speaker say at "Now if the person usually behaves the same in each situation."?
    (1 vote)
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    • mr pink red style avatar for user Connor P.
      Yes, she said "Now if the person usually behaves the same in each situation, then you know that their behaviour is not really affected". Meaning that if you placed that same person in a different situation, and you see that they are still acting the same way as the first situation, then you might guess that it's not the situation that is causing them to behave like that, but maybe some underlying personality trait.
      (1 vote)
  • leafers tree style avatar for user Michel El Hachem
    okay am bit confused. for the consensus part say if others did not behaved similarly in the situation. for example you get your friend a dog; your friend can 1) maybe feel happy seeing the dog, 2) or scared or maybe 3) neutral. Would that also confirm that the situation is having an effect on their behavior even if others would not have behaved similarly in the situation?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

Voiceover: So we're gonna take a look at a branch of Psychology called Social Psychology. So we're placed in different situations each and every day, so you can't dismiss the fact that these situations affect our behavior. This is a situational approach to behavior. And theorists place the situational approach to behavior under a branch of Psychology called Social Psychology. So Social Psychology is a branch of Psychology concerned with how social phenomena influences us, and how people interact with others. So it focuses on the interaction between an individual in his or her environment. So this is us in our environment, and this interaction is going to shape our behavior. So in many instances, people behave very differently, depending upon their situation. So behavior is seen as being influenced by external situational factors rather than internal traits or motivations. So, external is a very important word, external or situational factors. So in this theory, or explanation, so to say, it's hard to predict someone's behavior based off of just one situation. Because, that one situation isn't going to be really predictive of how they'll act or be in another situation. That's the beauty of this situational approach, is that, depending on the situation, the behavior may change. That's the assumption we need to go in with. And as social creatures, we humans base judgments and ideas about others simply off the situation in which that person behaves. But we also acknowledge, and it's important to do this, that sometimes we behave in ways that deviate from our typical character in differing situations. It's kind of like saying, you can't judge a book by its cover. An attribution is the process of inferring the causes of events or behaviors. So attribution has two parts to it but we're going to focus on one part. So attribution can either be internal or it can be external and the external, is what we're going to be focusing on today. So, over the course of a day, or let me step back a bit. Attribution, I said, is the process of inferring the causes of events and behaviors, and it's something that we do everyday without even really realizing that we're doing it. So, over the course of a day we probably make tons of attributions about our own behavior, as well as that of the people around us. So, the concept of attribution is actually much more complex, but since we're gonna focus on the external. We'll break that part down. So the external attribution is the inference that a person is behaving a certain way because of something about the situation he or she is in. So, external attribution has three main parts. And the first is consistency. So, now we're looking at external situational, circumstances, we're looking at consistency, so does the person usually behave this way in this situation? And the second is distinctiveness. Now distinctiveness in this case is does the person behave differently in different situations or is this particular situation distinct. And the last is consensus. So, do others behave similarly in this situation? Now, if we can confidently answer yes to this second two questions, so the ones that regard distinctiveness and consensus, so if we can say yes to does the person behaves differently in different situations. And do others behave similarly in the situation? Then we can come to the conclusion that the person is behaving in a particular way due to their situation. So here we can say the situation is having an effect on their behavior. Now if the person usually behaves the same in new situation, then you know that their behavior is not really affected by that situation, since they're consistent. So if we answer yes to this one, then we know that maybe their behavior isn't totally dependent on the situation. If it's going to be consistent from situation to the next situation to the next situation. Maybe that is more of an internal attribution. So, pretend you're at the zoo with your very calm and reasonable best friend, and you head over to the snakes exhibit. And although your friend doesn't like snakes, she calmly takes the time to look at them and read about all the different kinds of snakes out there. Now one day, you have this genius idea to decide to bring a pet cobra to her house. And the second she walks in the door, she screams and freaks out and runs out, and you are totally bewildered. You have no idea what to do. Well, what can we conclude? I mean I wouldn't say your best friend is always frantic. But clearly based on the distinct situation she was placed in, she's going to behave differently. So, in the zoo, the snakes are all caged up. She's obviously comfortable, she knows the snakes are not going to come at her. But the second you brought it into her living room, in a different situation, she felt like her safety was being endangered. So she's going to act differently in that situation. So moral of the story: Situational approaches teaches more about a person the more time we spend with them and see them in different circumstances. And also, don't ever bring a snake that close and in the open to your best friend's house.