Causal Attributions: A Review of the Past and Directions for the Future

Jennifer Sweeton, Bries Deerrose


Causal attribution theory is one of the most extensively researched paradigms in social psychology. Recently, fMRI research, largely from the field of personality psychology, has suggested that the neurological structures involved in forming causal attributions may also be involved in emotion regulation. This suggests that these two distinct processes - causal attribution formulation and emotion regulation - may be related phenomena. More specifically, attribution formation may be a method of emotion regulation. In the field of clinical psychology, treatment approaches for depression emphasize the importance of effective emotion regulation strategies, and many treatment approaches for depression are informed by emotion regulation research. Nonetheless, it does not seem that clinical psychology has fully utilized findings from causal attribution research for the treatment of depression. Because causal attributions may be a strategy for emotion regulation, clinical psychology might well benefit from integrating personality research with social psychology research on causal attributions. This paper posits that there is a connection between emotion regulation, attributional style, and depression, and that clinical psychology would benefit from drawing upon causal attribution research. Doing so would combine developments from distinct areas of psychology in order to better inform both researchers and clinicians working with depression. 

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