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Hardcover | $41.00 Short | £28.95 | ISBN: 9780262134453 | 322 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 20 illus.| September 2004
Paperback | $20.00 Short | £21.95 | ISBN: 9780262633390 | 322 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 20 illus.| August 2006

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How the Mind Explains Behavior

Folk Explanations, Meaning, and Social Interaction


In this provocative monograph, Bertram Malle describes behavior explanations as having a dual nature—as being both cognitive and social acts—and proposes a comprehensive theoretical model that integrates the two aspects. When people try to understand puzzling human behavior, they construct behavior explanations, which are a fundamental tool of social cognition. But, Malle argues, behavior explanations exist not only in the mind; they are also overt verbal actions used for social purposes. When people explain their own behavior or the behavior of others, they are using the explanation to manage a social interaction—by offering clarification, trying to save face, or casting blame. Malle's account makes clear why these two aspects of behavior explanation exist and why they are closely linked; along the way, he illustrates the astonishingly sophisticated and subtle patterns of folk behavior explanations.

Malle begins by reviewing traditional attribution theories and their simplified portrayal of behavior explanation. A more realistic portrayal, he argues, must be grounded in the nature, function, and origins of the folk theory of mind—the conceptual framework underlying people's grasp of human behavior and its connection to the mind. Malle then presents a theory of behavior explanations, focusing first on their conceptual structure and then on their psychological construction. He applies this folk-conceptual theory to a number of questions, including the communicative functions of behavior explanations, and the differences in explanations given for self and others as well as for individuals and groups. Finally, he highlights the strengths of the folk-conceptual theory of explanation over traditional attribution theory and points to future research applications.

About the Author

Bertram Malle is Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Cognitive and Decision Sciences at the University of Oregon. He is the editor of Intentions and Intentionality: Foundations of Social Cognition (MIT Press, 2001).


"Malle's impressive scholarly work offers a critical perspective on attribution theory, advancing instead a folk theory of mind and behavior with intentionality at its foundation. This is a significant contribution to psychology, and it will have lasting value."
Bernard Weiner, Professor of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles
"This landmark volume simultaneously provides an integrative analysis of past attribution work, bridges it to important developmental research on the theory of mind, and offers a creative new conceptual analysis that promises to lead to fresh insights and discoveries in the all-important study of meaning construction and explanation."
Arie W. Kruglanski, Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
"If you've ever wondered why attribution theory and theory of mind, both concerned with explaining the causes of behavior, have had so little to say to each other, this is the book for you. It develops a broad explanatory framework that gives the covariation model of attribution theory its proper place in the wider context of folk-psychological explanations."
Josef Perner, Department of Psychology, University of Salzburg