The actor-observer effect suggests that actors attribute to the situation while observers attribute to the actor's disposition. This effect has come under scrutiny because of an alternative perspective that accounts for anomalous finding. This alternative, called the contextual perspective, suggests that actors and observers foreground different aspects of the context because of a relationship with the context, and has roots in Gestalt psychology and phenomenology. I manipulated a researcher's prompt and the presence of a distressed confederate as the context for attributions, and hypothesized that actors and observers would differ on attributions to choice, situation, and disposition because of presence of a distressed confederate. Actors were presented with either a distressed or non-distressed confederate and either a prompt to leave, a prompt to stay, or no prompt. For example, some actors experienced a distressed confederate and were asked to leave while others experienced a non-distressed confederate and were asked to stay. Actors then made a decision to either stay and help the confederate or leave. Observers watched one of ten videos, each of one actor condition in which the actor either stayed or left (five actor conditions by 2 options of stay or leave). Actors' and observers' choice, situational, and dispositional attributions were analyzed using factorial MANOVAs. Actors and observers foregrounded the distressed confederate when making attributions to choice, situation, and disposition. Furthermore, observers' attributions to choice were also influenced by the actor's behavior. These findings support the contextual perspective since context does influence actors' and observers' attributions.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Psychology



Date Submitted


Document Type





Actor-observer effect, Obedience, Pro-social behavior, Foreground, Contextual



Included in

Psychology Commons