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Kelley's Co-Variation model

Harold Kelley's Co-Variation Model of Attribution (1967) explains how we use social perception to attribute behaviour to internal or external factors.

Kelley developed a logical model for judging whether a particular action should be attributed to some characteristic of the person (internal) or the environment (external).

Three types of information (variables) should be observed:

  1. Consensus
  2. Distinctiveness
  3. Consistency


The consensus variable answers the question:

If the answer is yes, then consensus is high. If the answer is no, then consensus is low.

Think about a patient waiting for potato mash for lunch in a restaurant in a hospital. Are other patients in the restaurant also eating potato mash? You look around and see that everyone chose potato mash, just like this patient. So, consensus is high for this patient behaviour.


The Distinctiveness variable answers the question:

For example, does this person behave the same way in all situations? Does this patient always eat potato mash for lunch, no matter where he is? If this patient has been seen before eating fried potato at home, but eating potato mash in a restaurant, then this behaviour is distinct from normal behaviour in any other location.


The Consistency variable answers the question:

For instance, does this patient always choose to eat potato mash for lunch when he comes to this restaurant in the hospital? If you have been at the hospital visiting someone and if he ordered potato mash then, too, consistency is high for the behaviour.

According to Kelley, we fall back on past experience and look for either: