The Correspondent Inference Theory was proposed by Edward E. Jones and Keith Davis in 1965. Popular as “Ned” Jones, Edward E. Jones was an influential social psychologist. Keith Davis was a key member of Edward E. Jones’ team which developed the Correspondent Inference Theory.
This psychological theory systematically accounts for a person’s inferences about what an actor was trying to achieve by a particular action. According to the theory, there are many possible motivations for an action. It is indeed a challenge to accurately define intentions behind an act.
When a father buys a toy for his son, he may be doing so out of sheer affection, or in an effort to motivate him to perform well in the school. The Correspondent Inference Theory deals with how people make attributions to the person. It does not take external causes into consideration.
The Correspondent Inference Theory assumes that in order to infer that any effect of an act was intended, the person must believe in the following:
1) The actor was aware of the consequences of the act.
2) The actor had the ability to carry out the act.
3) The actor intended to perform the act.
When the consequences of the chosen action is compared with the consequences of possible alternative actions, it is generally observed that the fewer effects the possible choices have in common, the more confident one can be in inferring a correspondent disposition.
Socially desirable outcomes do not indicate an individual’s intention or disposition. People generally intend socially desirable outcomes. You can just infer that they are normal human beings. Socially undesirable actions reveal more about intentions and dispositions.
Behaviors that disconform expectancies reveal a great deal about the person. According to the theory, there are two types of expectancy: category based and target based. The former are those derived from our knowledge about a particular group of people. The latter are those derived from knowledge about a particular person.
While inferring a disposition from an action, one needs to see whether the behavior of the person is constrained by external forces or whether it occurs from the person’s choice. Choice plays a major role here most of the time. However, research studies have proved that people do not take choice into consideration while judging another person’s attitudes.
Correspondent Inference Theory is used by many experts in various psychological studies all over the world.