Processes of Causal Explanation and Dispositional Attribution

Denis J. Hilton, Richard H. Smith, Sung Hee Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Causal explanation and dispositional attribution are distinguished. Causal explanation involves giving an explanation for why a particular event occurred, whereas dispositional attribution involves learning about the characteristics of some entity. Moreover, it is proposed that production of causal explanations requires J. S. Mill's (1872/1973) method of difference, whereas production of dispositional attributions requires Mill's method of agreement. Experiment 1 shows that both the method of difference and the method of agreement are used to make causal explanations. Experiments 1, 2, and 3 indicate that lay attributors consistently favor use of the method of agreement but not the method of difference to make dispositional attributions of both facilitatory and inhibitory characteristics. The distinction between causal explanation and dispositional attribution is used to organize seemingly contradictory findings and to provide an integrative framework for models of causal judgment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-387
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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