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Why is he poor? Why is she failing academically? Why is he so generous? Why is she so conscientious? Answers to such everyday questions—social explanations—have powerful effects on relationships at the interpersonal and societal levels. How do people select an explanation in particular cases? We suggest that, often, explanations are selected based on the individual's pre-existing general theories of social causality. More specifically, we suggest that over time individuals develop general beliefs regarding the causes of social events. We refer to these beliefs as social explanatory styles. Our goal in the present article is to offer and validate a measure of individual differences in social explanatory styles. Accordingly, we offer the Social Explanatory Styles Questionnaire (SESQ), which measures three independent dimensions of social explanatory style: Dispositionism, historicism, and controllability. Studies 1–3 examine basic psychometric properties of the SESQ and provide positive evidence regarding internal consistency, factor structure, and both convergent and divergent validity. Studies 4–6 examine predictive validity for each subscale: Does each explanatory dimension moderate an important phenomenon of social cognition? Results suggest that they do. In Study 4, we show that SESQ dispositionism moderates the tendency to make spontaneous trait inferences. In Study 5, we show that SESQ historicism moderates the tendency to commit the Fundamental Attribution Error. Finally, in Study 6 we show that SESQ controllability predicts polarization of moral blame judgments: Heightened blaming toward controllable stigmas (assimilation), and attenuated blaming toward uncontrollable stigmas (contrast). Decades of research suggest that explanatory style regarding the self is a powerful predictor of self-functioning. We think it is likely that social explanatory styles—perhaps comprising interactive combinations of the basic dimensions tapped by the SESQ—will be similarly potent predictors of social functioning. We hope the SESQ will be a useful tool for exploring that possibility.


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PloS one

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Gill, Michael J., and Michael R. Andreychik. "The Social Explanatory Styles Questionnaire: Assessing moderators of basic social-cognitive phenomena including spontaneous trait inference, the fundamental attribution error, and moral blame." PloS one 9, no. 7 (2014): e100886.