The Covariation Principle describes how we attribute a person’s behavior to either internal causes (their disposition) or to external causes (the situation). According to this theory, we explain the cause of someone’s behavior based on a combination of three factors:
(1) do other people behave this way?
(2) does the person always behave this way under similar circumstances? and
(3) does the person ever behave this way in different situations?
Let’s say we have a friend who is failing a class. If she usually struggles in school with most subjects and has a hard time in classes that are easy for others, we will probably conclude that she is a poor student. But if she is failing a class that many others are failing as well, and she is doing well in her other courses, we will conclude that she is a good student and there is something wrong with this particular class (perhaps she has a bad instructor).