Thursday, May 13, 2010

Attribution. What’s in a name? - Part 3.

The last two posts on this topic has now allowed one to arrive at a discussion of the psychological process of attribution. This is an interesting process relating to child development and how a child ‘acquires’ its personality. It is interesting in that most environmental effects on the child subtract from it whereas attribution is an additive process.

A good example of attribution at work is with the naming of a child as I have described previously. Using myself as an example. I was named after my grandfather and this may have attributed some of his qualities to me. If the parents tell the child who they are named after and what that person was like the child can then take that as a directive that they are like that person. The qualities are attributed to the child by the parents story behind the naming. Perhaps my life script was to work in helping people in psychological distress like my grandfather’s work was to help people in physical distress? This may have been attributed to my life script by my mother’s naming of me.

Most theories of child development including Transactional Analysis tend focus on what is subtracted from the Free Child of the youngster. This is reflected in script injunctions as shown below

Don’t exist

Don’t be you (sex you are)

Don’t be a child

Don’t grow up

Don’t make it (succeed)


Don’t be important

Don’t be close

Don’t belong

Don’t be well (sane)

Don’t think

Don’t feel

Parents demand these of young children for various reasons and each one of these subtracts from the Free Child. Each time the child accepts the injunction part of its Free Child is inhibited in the way described.

Attributions do not work in the same way. Instead of demanding that a child not be a certain way an attribution gives a child some idea of how to be. It adds to the child rather than subtracts from it. When a parent delivers a “Don’t” the child feels pain whereas an attribution through a name does not result in that same painful process.

A man can become a drunkard because he has been given the injunction, Don’t feel. He stops himself having feelings by numbing himself with alcohol. As a young boy his father hit him when he cried and called him a sissy. The boy thus felt pain as he learnt not to have feelings.

A man can become a drunkard because he was named after his uncle Harry who was a drunkard and a womaniser. There is no pain or subtraction in this socialisation of the child. The parents are not hitting the child nor are they demeaning it and thus it is not painful in the same way.

When a “Don’t” injunction is imposed on a child it is forced to move into its Conforming Child ego state and conform to the directive not too feel. There is much less conformity involved in the attribution process. Uncle Harry may also have been a successful business man. Which characteristics the child selects is really up to it and thus not a similar conforming process.

One could say attributions are more of a passive scripting or personality formation process that is directed more by the child than the parents.

Parents can deliver attributions by other means. They can say things like

“She is the pretty one”

“He’s the little scientist”

“He’s the sporty one”

Or giving the child a telescope for christmas.

Or by taking it to museums.

All these are not done out of the need of the parent’s own Child ego state. If that happens it is more of an injunction and a “Don’t”. It is a much kinder type of scripting that the parents do out of fun and simply noticing characteristics of the child. Parent’s cannot not give attributions. Every time they comment on attributes of the child it maybe happening in the child’s mind.

Sometimes however parents may be feathering their own nest. In many families one child is often groomed by the parents to look after them in their declining years. In a family of three sons and one daughter it is usually the daughter who gets the job. Attributions can be used in this way.

“She’s the little nurse”

“She is so kind and caring”



  1. well, in my opinion there's too much belief in the power of the influence of a particular name in this theory.

    like in your example - "inheriting" drinking problems after uncle Harry, to me can be explained as "one of the parents who spent half of their life with the older Harry and his parents, acquired some features that then they passed on to their offspring - not falling into this problem themselves".

    So trying to measure this "contribution of attribution" I would give 1000 pts for the environment in which the parent of the little Harry was brought up, and just 5-10 pts for the very name Harry (instead of Larry who might have been their successful brother.)

    So my note is concerned with the quantitative issues, as far as qualitative ones go - brilliant and informative entry, thank you!

    regards, Zbig.

  2. Telescope? People get something like that as a present? WOW!

    And what's wrong with museums? I would love to have gone to museums. Art galleries and museums are my fav destinations now-a-days.

    I got a horse for christmas once, and a guitar and amp. But no telescopes or museums! I guess a horse and a guitar and amp was what I wanted. *Shrugs*

    Not that I'm complaining - oh my goodness! Totally the spoiled bratt.

    Happy weekend everyone!

  3. Hello Zbig,

    Maybe we can disagree on this one a bit. Or maybe I partially agree and partially disagree. For some as we have seen here their naming has meant very little but I have heard others over the years be very effected by their public 'tag'.

    And as you say if Harry had an older brother called Larry then things might be different.