The current political system in the United States is marked by extreme levels of partisan hostility and polarization, which has not only resulted in a dysfunctional congress, but also increasing conflict between partisan groups in the general electorate. While political scientists have offered various explanations for this phenomenon, social-psychological theories provide opportunities for empirical investigation of psychological explanatory factors. This study applied Betancourt’s attribution-emotion model of conflict and violence to the ultimate attribution error in order to develop a contemporary and comprehensive understanding of the psychological factors relevant to partisan-based intergroup relations. Five hundred sixty-four participants from various demographic backgrounds were recruited using snowball convenience sampling. When participants read a hypothetical news article involving a congressperson from an opposing political party acting in an antisocial manner, the congressperson’s behavior was attributed as more intentional than when participants read an identical news article involving a congressperson from the same political party. Structural equation modeling also confirmed that attributions of intentionality and controllability influenced social judgments and voting intentions directly, and indirectly through anger. These findings are discussed in terms of implications for studying political polarization and bipartisan cooperation from a social-psychological perspective, as well as contributions to the body of knowledge regarding attribution theory in general, and the ultimate attribution error in specific.

LLU Discipline

Clinical Psychology




School of Behavioral Health

First Advisor

Betancourt, Hector M.

Second Advisor

Distelberg, Brian J.

Third Advisor

Flynn, Patricia M.

Fourth Advisor

Morrell, Holly E. R.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Level


Year Degree Awarded


Date (Title Page)




Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings

Political Psychology; Attribution (Social Psychology); Emotions; Political Sociology; Intergroup Relations; Conflict (Psychology); Structural Equation Modeling; Multivariate Analysis

Subject - Local

Partisan Hostility and Polarization; Social-Psychological Theories; Snowball Convenience Sampling; Structural Equation Modeling; Intentionality



Page Count


Digital Format


Digital Publisher

Loma Linda University Libraries

Usage Rights

This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.


Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Collection Website



Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives