Attributional processes in accounting for conflict behaviors
Cai, Deborah A.
Fink, Edward L.
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One simple way to handle interpersonal conflict is to use accounts to explain one's behaviors. Although accounts play a significant role in managing conflict, relatively little research has explored the processes offenders use to determine the accounts selected in conflict situations. The goal of this dissertation is to investigate the attributional processes offenders use that determine their accounts in conflict. Ten hypotheses were proposed about how the severity of the conflict outcome and the closeness between the parties involved in the conflict influence offenders' choice of accounts. A structural equation model was developed and tested based on the proposed hypotheses. An experiment was conducted, with two levels of outcome severity and three levels of relational closeness. Offenders' attributions (i.e., the degree of internal attribution, the degree of external attribution, controllability, and uncontrollability), anticipated consequences (i.e., expected responsibility and expected anger), and offenders' expected choice of accounts (i.e., the likelihood of selecting concessions, justifications, excuses, and refusals) were measured. Two hundred thirty-eight participants were recruited and randomly assigned to one of the six experimental conditions. Participants read a hypothetical conflict scenario, imagined that they were the offender in the scenario, and completed a questionnaire that had the dependent measures. Results indicated that outcome severity influenced offenders' choice of accounts directly and indirectly. Offenders tended to choose a more defensive account when they perceived the outcome to be severe than when the outcome was not severe. The influence of outcome severity on offenders' choice of accounts was also mediated by the attributions offenders made, the responsibility expected to be assigned to offenders, and anger expected to be felt by victims. When offenders perceived the outcome to be severe, offenders made more attributions, expected more responsibility to be assigned to them, and expected that victims felt angrier about offenders' behavior than when the outcome was not severe. Consequently, when offenders expected more anger from victims, they tended to be less defensive. Interpretations and implications of results, the limitations of the study, and future directions were discussed.