Attributions of Responsibility

Philip Brickman and his colleagues argue that when one sees a person in need, one makes attributions about how responsible that person is for the problem he or she faces and also about how much responsibility that person should take for its solution. These attributions, in turn, influence one's judgment about who one thinks is best suited to deliver help, and, if one decides to offer help oneself, they influence its form. One may be most likely to offer direct assistance if one attributes little responsibility to that person for solving the problem—as when a child is lost in a shopping mall. In contrast, if one judges a person to be responsible for solving his or her problem, as when a friend has a nasty boss, one may offer encouragement and moral support but not directly intervene. Thus, who one thinks should provide the remedy—oneself, experts, or the person who needs the help—depends on attributions that one makes about responsibility.

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