Fundamental(ist) attribution error: Protestants are dispositionally focused

Yexin Jessica Li, Kathryn A. Johnson, Adam B. Cohen, Melissa J. Williams, Eric D. Knowles, Zhansheng Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Attribution theory has long enjoyed a prominent role in social psychological research, yet religious influences on attribution have not been well studied. We theorized and tested the hypothesis that Protestants would endorse internal attributions to a greater extent than would Catholics, because Protestantism focuses on the inward condition of the soul. In Study 1, Protestants made more internal, but not external, attributions than did Catholics. This effect survived controlling for Protestant work ethic, need for structure, and intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity. Study 2 showed that the Protestant-Catholic difference in internal attributions was significantly mediated by Protestants' greater belief in a soul. In Study 3, priming religion increased belief in a soul for Protestants but not for Catholics. Finally, Study 4 found that experimentally strengthening belief in a soul increased dispositional attributions among Protestants but did not change situational attributions. These studies expand the understanding of cultural differences in attributions by demonstrating a distinct effect of religion on dispositional attributions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-290
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2012


  • Attribution
  • Belief in a soul
  • Cultural differences
  • Religious differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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