Causal versus existential attributions: Different perspectives on highly negative events.
Examines attributions of extremely negative events such as an HIV infection, both from the perspective of 21 infected persons (mean age 34.6 yrs) as well as from the perspective of 47 noninfected Os. The impetus for these studies is the observation that victims of highly negative events often refer to attributions such as "poetic justice" or "personal destiny." These attributions are distinguished from causal attributions and are labeled existential attributions (EAs). Study 1 analyzes whether EAs are indeed prevalent among persons infected with HIV. Studies 2, 3, and 4 examine the evaluation of such EAs from the perspective of an outside O. Results show that persons infected with HIV indeed refer to existential attributions to explain their infection, whereas uninvolved Os predominantly reject these attributions. Moreover, Studies 2 and 3 reveal that perspective-taking ability, when measured as a stable person disposition, does not foster an understanding of EAs. However, as is shown in Study 4, situational determinants of the O's perspective taking-such as the perception of one's own risk of becoming infected with HIV-promotes an understanding of the possible functions of EAs.
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