How useful social psychological theories really are in understanding individual and group behaviour

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The circumstances surrounding Dr David Kelly’s suicide and Kelley’s theory of Causal Attribution have now each been discussed separately. But how applicable really is Kelley’s theory? The next step is to apply the theory to the Dr Kelly event by studying each of the key players attributional thinking processes. N. B. After analysing many newspaper sources it was difficult to attain workable examples of attributional statements for some player’s in the event due to a relatively small amount of first person commentary quotes within articles.

To effectively complete this analysis task, hypothesised examples based upon some player’s statements have been included as to what type of information would have needed to be evident in their statements to successfully demonstrate different components of Kelley’s theory. The first example of a key players attributional thinking to be discussed will be a comment from Dr David Kelly himself.

During the first week of the Hutton inquiry, (The Australian, 1) a BBC journalist stated that ‘Government weapons adviser David Kelly held British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s communications director Alistair Campbell responsible for rewriting the intelligence dossier on Iraq’s weapons program to make it ‘sexier’. In applying Kelley’s theory to this causal statement, we first need to ascertain whether the Dr Kelly considered ‘Consistency information’ in his attributional thinking.

Consistency is not mentioned in this causal statement because Dr Kelly does not refer to other instances of, for example, Alistair Campbell behaving in an unprofessional manner when explaining his behaviour. The next step is to look for evidence of ‘Consensus information’ in Dr Kelly’s causal thinking processes. In this case, Consensus information is not referred to, as there is no evidence of Dr Kelly referring to other government officials behaving in a simular way as he states Alistair Campbell has, to support his causal explanation.

The third step is to look for any evidence of ‘Distinctiveness Information’ in Dr Kelly’s causal explanation. Distinctiveness is not mentioned in this instance; as Dr Kelly does not, for example, provide information that Alistair Campbell has behaved in a simular manner on many other occasions over a period of time. From this example, there is no evidence that Dr Kelly considered consistency, consensus and distinctiveness information when trying to explain Alistair Campbell’s behaviour, it is important to note that this statement was said by BBC journalists and may not have been Dr Kelly’s exact language.

During the first week of the Hutton inquiry BBC journalists were interviewed and Gavin Hewitt stated (Guardian, 1) ‘I cannot begin to think why he (Dr Kelly) got that wrong. He may have had a lot of interviews within that period. ‘ Evidence of ‘Consistency information’ is not apparent in this causal statement, as Gavin Hewitt does not include information, for example, about Dr Kelly consistently getting ‘things wrong’ on other occasions. ‘Consensus information’ is also not apparent in Hewitt’s statement, as he does not include causal information such as whether other people in Dr Kelly’s position have got ‘things wrong’.

Distinctiveness information’ is slightly evident in Hewitt’s causal statement as he gives evidence that Dr Kelly may have ‘got it wrong’ due to a busy time with interviews. During the third week of the Hutton inquiry, a key player from the government, Richard Hatfield commented (The Australian, 2) ‘He (Dr Kelly) did not need to see that to know the rules because the basic rules are clear, these include not commenting on, or disclosing classified information and not discussing politically controversial issues. There is evidence of low ‘Consistency’ in Richard Hatfield’s explanation as he states that Dr Kelly knew the rules, the rules had never been an issue before. ‘Consensus’ is not included in Hatfield’s causal explanation, as he does not provide evidence of other government officials not abiding by the rules. ‘Distinctiveness’ information is not included, because Hatfield does not provide evidence that Dr Kelly did not follow the rules on other occasions.

Dr Kelly’s widow, Janice Kelly gave evidence during the fourth week of the Hutton Inquiry, she commented (The Guardian, 2) ‘I have never, in all the Russian visits and all the difficulties he had in Iraq, where he had lots of discomforts, lots of horrors, guns pointing at him, munitions left lying around, I had never known him to be as unhappy as he was then. It was tangible. Palpable. This statement shows evidence of low ‘consistency’ of Dr Kelly’s behaviour than usual, according to Janice Kelly; she gives evidence that Dr Kelly’s unhappy behaviour was not consistent with his normal behaviour.

‘Consensus’ is not included in the causal statement, as Janice Kelly does not provide information of other people, e. g. members of the family behaving in a simular manner to Dr Kelly under intense pressure. Distinctiveness’ seems high because Janice Kelly describes her husband as behaving in a way like he had never before. As can be seen from the short discussion above (due to word limit constraints), there is evidence that Kelley’s theory of causal attribution can be applied to real life events. It was illustrated that when individuals seek to explain behaviour, many of Kelley’s sources of information are definitely considered in the process.

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