organizational behavior  PERCEPTION, ATTITUDES AND PERSONALITY Overview

Perception and attribution are important topics because all decisions and behaviors in organizations are influenced by how people interpret and make sense of the world around them and each other. Perception is the process by which individuals select, organize, and interpret sensory input. Attribution is an explanation of the cause of behavior. Perception and attribution explain how and why people behave in organizations and how and why they react to the behavior of others. This chapter makes the following points:

Perception is the process by which people interpret the input from their senses to give meaning and order to the world around them. The three components of perception are the perceiver, the target, and the situation. Accurate perceptions are necessary to make good decisions and to motivate workers to perform at a high level, to be fair and equitable, and to be ethical.

The perceiver’s knowledge base is organized into schemas, abstract knowledge structures stored in memory that allow people to organize and interpret information about a given target of perception. Schemas tend to be resistant to change and can be functional or dysfunctional. A stereotype is a dysfunctional schema because stereotypes often lead perceivers to assume erroneously that targets have a whole range of characteristics simply because they possess one distinguishing characteristic (e.g., race, age, or gender). In addition to the perceiver’s schemas, the motivational state and mood also influence perception.

Characteristics of the target also influence perception. Ambiguous targets are subject to a lot of interpretation by the perceiver; the more ambiguous the target, the more likely perceivers are to differ in their perceptions of it. The target’s social status also affects how the target is perceived. Through impression management, targets can actively try to manage the perceptions that others have of them.

  1. The situation affects perception by providing the perceiver with additional information. One particularly important aspect of the situation is the target’s salience—that is, the extent to which the target stands out in a group of people or things.
  2. Biases and problems in person perception include primacy effects, contrast effects, halo effects, similar-to-me effects, harshness, leniency, average tendencies, and knowledge-of-predictor bias. Inaccurate perceptions resulting from these biases can lead to faulty decision making.

Attributions are important determinants of behavior in organizations because organization members

react to other people’s behavior based on what they think caused the behavior. Common external attributions for behavior include task difficulty and luck or chance. Like perceptions, attributions can be inaccurate because of biases, including the fundamental attribution error, the actor-observer effect, and self-serving attribution.

Three ways in which organizations can promote accurate perceptions and attributions and effectively manage diverse employees include: securing top management’s commitment to diversity, diversity training, and education. Organizations also need to take steps to eliminate and prevent both quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

organizational behavior  PERCEPTION, ATTITUDES AND PERSONALITY Overview


The Process through which individuals attempt to determine the causes of others behavior

Attribution Theory

People try to make sense of a situation by explaining its cause; this explanation is an attribution. Attribution theory describes how people explain the causes of their own and other people’s behavior. To the extent that attributions are accurate, better organizational decisions can be made. Supervisors make attributions for high or low performance. If a supervisor attributes high performance to exceptional ability, challenging work is assigned, but if it is attributed to luck, no change in assignment will be made. Incorrect attributions result in over challenging or under challenging assignments. Smooth day-to-day interactions often hinge on accurate attributions.

Internal and External Attributions

Causal explanations for behaviors can be either internal attributions, behavior caused by some characteristic of the target, or external attributions, behavior assigned to factors outside the individual. Common internal attributions include ability, effort, and personality. Poor performance may be attributed to lack of effort or ability, and poor relations with coworkers may be attributed to personality. Common external attributions include luck, chance, and easy tasks. A worker’s accomplishment may be viewed as a stroke of luck. Whether attributions are internal or external determines how people respond to behavior. High performance, attributed to ability, results in a promotion, but attributed to luck, results in no promotion. The attributions people make for their own behavior influence subsequent actions. A successful worker who attributes an outcome to luck remains unaffected, whereas attributing success to ability increases confidence.

1. Our perceptions of people differ from our perceptions of inanimate objects.

  • We make inferences about the actions of people that we do not make about inanimate objects.
  • Nonliving objects are subject to the laws of nature.
  • People have beliefs, motives, or intentions.

2. Our perception and judgment of a person’s actions are influenced by these assumptions. Attribution theory suggests that when we observe an individual’s behavior, we attempt to determine whether it was internally or externally caused. That determination depends largely on three factors:

  • Distinctiveness: shows different behaviors in different situations.
  • Consensus: Response is the same as others to same situation.
  • Consistency: Responds in the same way over time.

3. Clarification of the differences between internal and external causation:

  • Internally caused behaviors are those that are believed to be under the personal control of the individual.
  • Externally caused behavior is seen as resulting from outside causes; that is, the person is seen as having been forced into the behavior by the situation.

4. Distinctiveness refers to whether an individual displays different behaviors in different situations. What we want to know is whether the observed behavior is unusual.

  • If it is, the observer is likely to give the behavior an external attribution.
    • If this action is not unusual, it will probably be judged as internal.

1.  Consensus occurs if everyone who is faced with a similar situation responds in the same way. If consensus is high, you would be expected to give an external attribution to the employee’s tardiness, whereas if other employees who took the same route made it to work on time, your conclusion as to causation would be internal.

2.  Consistency in a person’s actions. Does the person respond the same way over time? The more consistent the behavior, the more the observer is inclined to attribute it to internal causes.

3.  Fundamental Attribution Error

  • There is substantial evidence that we have a tendency to underestimate the influence of external factors and overestimate the influence of internal or personal factors.
  • There is also a tendency for individuals to attribute their own successes to internal factors such as ability or effort while putting the blame for failure on external factors such as luck. This is called the “self-serving bias” and suggests that feedback provided to employees will be distorted by recipients.

8. Are these errors or biases that distort attribution universal across different cultures? While there is no definitive answer there is some preliminary evidence that indicates cultural differences:

  • Korean managers found that, contrary to the self-serving bias, they tended to accept responsibility for group failure.
  • Attribution theory was developed largely based on experiments with Americans and Western Europeans.
  • The Korean study suggests caution in making attribution theory predictions in non-Western societies, especially in countries with strong collectivist traditions.

Frequently Used Shortcuts in Judging Others

  • Selective Perception
    • People selectively interpret what they see on the basis of their interest, background, experience, and attitudes.
    • Halo Effect
      • A general impression about an individual is based on a single positive characteristic.
      • Contrast Effects
        • Evaluations of a person’s characteristics that are affected by comparisons with other people recently encountered who rank higher or lower on the same characteristics.
        • Projection
        • Attributing one’s own characteristics to other people
    • Stereotyping

– Judging someone on the basis of the group to which he/she belongs.

Specific Applications in Organizations

1. Employment Interview

  • Evidence indicates that interviewers make perceptual judgments that are often inaccurate.
  • In addition, agreement among interviewers is often poor. Different interviewers see different things in the same candidate and thus arrive at different conclusions about the applicant.
  • Interviewers generally draw early impressions that become very quickly entrenched. Studies indicate that most interviewers’ decisions change very little after the first four or five minutes of the interview.
  • Because interviews usually have so little consistent structure and interviewers vary in terms of what they are looking for in a candidate, judgments of the same candidate can vary widely.

2. Performance Expectations

  • Evidence demonstrates that people will attempt to validate their perceptions of reality, even when those perceptions are faulty.
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy or Pygmalion effect characterizes the fact that people’s expectations determine their behavior. Expectations become reality.
  • A study was undertaken with 105 soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces who were taking a fifteen-week combat command course. Soldiers were randomly divided and identified as having high potential, normal potential, and potential not known. Instructors got better results from the high potential group because they expected it confirming the effect of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

3. Performance Evaluation

  • An employee’s performance appraisal is very much dependent on the perceptual process.
  • Although the appraisal can be objective, many jobs are evaluated in subjective terms. Subjective measures are, by definition, judgmental.
  • To the degree that managers use subjective measures in appraising employees, what the evaluator perceives to be good or bad employee characteristics or behaviors will significantly influence the outcome of the appraisal.

4. Employee Effort

• An individual’s future in an organization is usually not dependent on performance alone. An assessment of an individual’s effort is a subjective judgment susceptible to perceptual distortions and bias.

Perception and Performance Appraisal

Objective and Subjective Measures

  • Higher in the organizational hierarchy, it becomes more difficult to find objective measures or quantifiable evidence to use to measure performance.
  • Therefore, organizations rely on subjective measures of effectiveness provided by managers.

Rater Errors

Sometimes individuals make similar judgments, even though job performance is varied. Some supervisors are overly harsh in appraisals, whereas others are overly lenient. Others rate everyone as average. One effect is that high performers do not receive the rewards they deserve and low performers do not improve performance. Biases make it difficult to compare employees rated by different supervisors. Should an employee with a good performance rating from a lenient supervisor be promoted over an employee with a poor rating from a harsh supervisor?

  • Leniency – The tendency to perceive the job performance of ratees as especially good.
  • Harshness – The tendency to perceive the job performance of ratees as especially ineffective.
  • Central tendency – The tendency to assign most ratees to middle-range job performance categories.
  • Halo effect The rating of an individual on one trait or characteristic tends to colour ratings on other traits or characteristics. A halo effect occurs when the perceiver’s general impression of a target distorts perception of the target on specific dimensions. Halo effects can be positive or negative. A subordinate viewed positively may be rated high on work quality though the work is full of mistakes. Because of the halo effect, the subordinate will not receive the feedback necessary to improve performance. A negative impression may lead the supervisor to perceive the subordinate as uncooperative.
  • Similar-to-me effect A rater gives more favorable evaluations to people who are similar to the rater in terms of background or attitudes. People tend to perceive those who are similar to themselves more positively than those who are dissimilar. Similar-to-me effect can adversely affect women and minorities trying to climb the corporate ladder. Members of an organization must be on guard for the similar-to-me bias in interacting with people from other cultures.


Misperception is the cognitive process by which an individual selects and organizes, but misinterprets, environmental stimuli.

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