Deutsch: Fehlattribution / Español: Atribución Errónea / Português: Atribuição Incorreta / Français: Mauvaise Attribution / Italiano: Errata Attribuzione

Misattribution in the psychology context refers to the incorrect attribution of the source, cause, or motivation behind one's own or others' feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. This cognitive bias can lead to misunderstandings or inaccurate judgments about why events occur or why individuals act in certain ways. Misattribution is a significant concept in social psychology, particularly in studies of memory, perception, and attribution theory, which explores how people explain the actions of themselves and others.


Misattribution can manifest in various forms, including:

  • Misattribution of Arousal: Where an individual incorrectly attributes their emotional or physiological state to the wrong source. For example, if someone experiences an increased heart rate due to caffeine intake but attributes that arousal to attraction to a person they are with.
  • Source Misattribution: Where a person incorrectly remembers the source of information. For instance, believing a rumor was heard from a credible source when it was not.
  • Misattribution of Motivation: Misinterpreting the motivations behind one's own or others' actions.

These errors in attribution can significantly impact personal relationships, decision-making, and assessments of situations and others.

Application Areas

Misattribution is relevant in several psychological domains, including:

  • Social Psychology: Understanding interpersonal dynamics and how misattributions affect social interactions and perceptions.
  • Cognitive Psychology: Studying memory processes and how misattributions contribute to false memories or incorrect recall.
  • Clinical Psychology: Addressing cognitive distortions in therapy, where misattributions might affect self-esteem or the interpretation of others' actions.

Well-Known Examples

A well-known study illustrating misattribution of arousal is Dutton and Aron's (1974) bridge study, where male participants who had just crossed a precarious suspension bridge were more likely to attribute their heightened physiological arousal to an attraction to a female experimenter, compared to men who were approached after crossing a stable bridge.

Treatment and Risks

Understanding misattribution is crucial for mitigating its effects, particularly in therapeutic settings where clarifying the origins of feelings and beliefs can lead to more accurate self-understanding and healthier interpersonal relationships. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, for example, often aim to identify and correct misattributions by challenging and reframing distorted beliefs.

The risks associated with misattribution include the perpetuation of stereotypes, increased interpersonal conflicts, and the development of biased or inaccurate beliefs that can affect mental health and well-being.

Similar Terms or Synonyms

  • Attribution Error: A broader term encompassing various errors in the attribution process, including misattribution.
  • Cognitive Bias: Misattribution is a type of cognitive bias that affects how individuals process and interpret information.


Misattribution in psychology refers to the erroneous assignment of the source, cause, or motivation for behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. It highlights the complexity of cognitive processes and the potential for error in our understanding of the world and ourselves. Recognizing and addressing misattributions can lead to improved interpersonal relationships, better decision-making, and enhanced psychological health.


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