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The Relationship of the Actor-Observer Effect on Dispositional Attribution in Drivers Under Twenty Four Yea

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The Relationship of the Actor-Observer Effect on Dispositional Attribution in Drivers Under Twenty Four Years.

Kylie Donovan

Deakin University

Word Count: 2637

Abstract

A survey was carried out among randomly selected people at three shopping centers in Metropolitan Melbourne to determine whether the actor-observer effect is present when people explain the driving behaviours of people under the age of 24 years. The 152 respondents comprised 81 males aged 18-22 years (M=21.7; SD=0.75), and 71 females aged 18-23 years (M=22.2; SD = 1.24). Respondents were randomly assigned one of four scenarios and asked to rate the driving behaviour (risky or not risky) presented in relation to the type of driver (self or other) depicted in the scenario. Results indicate no significant difference in dispositional attribution for others than for self in relation to driving behaviour. Further research should attempt to continue clarifying what is considered risky driving, and if age has a bearing on the perception of what is considered risky. Looking at diverse geographic regions will also enhance research. Implications of this research could have a major impact on road safety and driver attitude campaigns of the future, while also providing a greater understanding of when the best time is to expose young people to messages of that kind.

Risky Driving and the Actor-Observer Effect in Drivers Under 24 Years

There are a few biases people use to attribute - explain - the behaviours of self and others. Many researchers are interested in whether an actor-observer effect exists when people assess the reasons for behaviour of others and self. The actor-observer effect sees people attribute behaviours differently, depending upon whether they are explaining their own behaviour or that of others. Essentially it is suggested, that people tend to attribute their own (actor) behaviour externally (situational), while the behaviour of others (observer) is attributed internally (dispositional) (Vaughan & Hogg, 2011).

The actor-observer effect is an extension of the fundamental attribution error, also known as correspondence bias. This bias assumes the behaviour of others is related to their personality/disposition (internal) and holds no regard for the circumstances of the situation, (external). According to Burton, Westen and Kowalski (2009) this happens because people are not privy to situational influences that may lead to the behaviour witnessed occurring. This may explain why when it comes to our own behaviour, we are more likely to use situational attributions - we are aware of possible reasons outside of us that may have influenced the way we behaved. In the case of an employee who is late for work, the employer will only see that the worker is late. They have no knowledge of what may have occurred to contribute to the employee's tardiness.

Taking the example of the late employee and applying the actor-observer effect, we can see where it differs from the fundamental attribution error. The employee would attribute lateness externally, knowing their car broke down, or their children were being difficult that morning, or the bus was late - knowledge that the employer is lacking, resulting in an internal attribution rather than attributing it externally. Something they would attribute to their own tardiness if they were the ones coming into work late (Burton et.al, 2009).

Research into the actor-observer effect is socially important, given attribution is a fundamental aspect in nearly every social interaction. Understanding how people assess the behaviour of others and self, can also help determine strongly held stereotypes in society, what society considers acceptable behaviour, and importantly, could provide insight into societies biases and prejudices, (Burton et al., 2009). Studying the ways in which people make judgments and assess behaviour of others and self can lead to greater understanding of how people come to form their beliefs and their value systems (Vaughan & Hogg 2011).

Previous studies of the actor-observer effect have produced varied results. While Nisbett, Caputo, Legant, & Marecek, 1973; West, Gunn, & Chernicky, 1975 (cited by Harre, Brandt, and Houkamau (2004)) support the existence of the actor-observer effect (Lewis, 1995) did not. Additionally, some research while supporting the existence of the actor-observer effect, (Blass, & Kaplowitz, 1990 as cited in Harre et.al., ) clarifies its support, pointing to the impact of culture and individuality and the role they play on the existence (or not) of the actor-observer bias. These findings are supported by Burton et al.,(2009) "collectivist cultures make more external attributions for others' behaviour" (p. 702).

There are variables that may affect the actor-observer bias. Firstly, the language used to describe some behaviours. Language that talks about behaviours in terms of personality can cause stereotyping of the people who model certain behaviours. . Secondly, Vaughan and Hogg (2011) suggest behaviours that are deemed acceptable, are more likely to be internally attributed. Conversely those that are considered to be undesirable have a tendency to be more often attributed externally. Given people prefer to present themselves in a positive light, (Burton et al., 2009), it may suit those observing a behaviour to attribute it as part of the 'actors' personality to distance themselves from it, and explaining their own behaviour which may be similar or the same as a result of external factors. Lastly, Burton et al. (2009) and Vaughan and Hogg (2011) talk about the way we perceive the other people or outgroups as having an impact on whether or not actor-observer bias exists. A study by McCartney and O'Donnell (1981, cited in Harre et al., 2004) found that people considered to be problem drinkers externally attributed their drinking behaviour , differentiating themselves from alcoholics, attributing the alcoholic drinking behaviour to their disposition. This could be genuinely not acknowledging that both behaviours could be externally or internally attributed, or an unwillingness to acknowledge the possibility that they have something in common with the more negative term alcoholic, wanting to present their behaviour as a product of environment or circumstance rather than their disposition. Anything to distance themselves from an undesirable group of people, who can be stereotyped and stigmatized in society.

Harre et al., (2004) believes that the actor-observer effect can be applied with purpose to specific

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