Casual versus existential attributions: Different perspectives on highly negative events
In this article, we examine attributions of extremely negative events such as an HIV infection, both from the perspective ofthe infected person as well as from the perspective of noninfected observers. 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 attnbutions and are labeled existential attributions. In Study 1, we analyze whether existential attributions are indeed prevalent among persons infected with HIV In Studies 2, 3, and 4, we examine the evaluation of such existential attributions from the perspective of an outside observer Results show that persons infected with HIV indeed refer to existential attributions to explain their infection, whereas uninvolved observers 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 existential attributions. However, as is shown in Study 4, situational determinants of the observer's perspective taking—such as the perception of one's own risk of becoming infected with HIV—^promotes an understanding of the possible fiinctiotis of existential attributions. Results are discussed with respect to the veddicality and functionality of existential attributions as well as their therapeutic implications.
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