Neural mechanisms underlying the integration of situational information into attribution outcomes

Tobias Brosch, Daniela Schiller, Rachel Mojdehbakhsh, James S. Uleman, Elizabeth A. Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When forming impressions and trying to figure out why other people behave the way they do, we should take into account not only dispositional factors (i.e. personality traits) but also situational constraints as potential causes for a behavior. However, in their attributions, people often ignore the importance of situational factors. To investigate the neural mechanisms underlying the integration of situational information into attributions, we decomposed the attribution process by separately presenting information about behaviors and about the situational circumstances in which they occur. After reading the information, participants judged whether dispositional or situational causes explained the behavior (attribution), and how much they liked the person described in the scenario (affective evaluation). The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex showed increased blood oxygenation-level-dependent activation during the encoding of situational information when the resulting attribution was situational, relative to when the attribution was dispositional, potentially reflecting a controlled process that integrates situational information into attributions. Interestingly, attributions were strongly linked to subsequent affective evaluations, with the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex emerging as potential substrate of the integration of attributions and affective evaluations. Our findings demonstrate how top-down control processes regulate impression formation when situational information is taken into account to understand others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)640-646
Number of pages7
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Attribution
  • Disposition
  • Evaluation
  • Fundamental attribution error
  • Person perception
  • Situation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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