ATTRIBUTIONS OF RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD SCALE assesses the ex­tent to which individuals attribute certain life event outcomes to God. It does so by presenting four vignettes or stories that are varied along two dimensions: outcome probability (high vs. low) and outcome ex­tremity (extreme vs. mild). Then it asks re­spondents to evaluate the extent to which personal responsibility, luck, personal ef­ forts, or divine intervention are involved in determining the outcome of each story.

General attribution theory has been pro­ posed as a useful theoretical perspective for an understanding of religious experience. This is because it provides a cohesive and well-developed model for understanding the major dimensions and causes of one's beliefs and interpretations about life experi­ences and events (Glock & Piazza, 1981; Proudfoot & Shaver, 1975). In testing this model for the evaluation of religious attri­butions, Lowe and Medway (1976) de­ scribed some of the important situational features that would make it more likely for an individual to attribute an experience to God. In extending these findings, Gorsuch and Smith (1983) developed their instru­ment to evaluate how such features might interact with the religious traits of the individual in determining his or her "attri­bution to God" tendency for a given life sit­uation.


In the Attributions of Respon­sibility to God measure, all four vignettes provide events with positive outcomes. However, the outcomes can be varied along two dimensions: level of outcome probabil­ity (likely vs. unlikely) and outcome ex­tremity (extremely good vs. mildly good). The vignettes are also constructed so that causes for the events described are ambigu­ous. The vignettes involve experiences and feelings with which most respondents can readily identify and empathize.

After reading each vignette, respondents are asked a series of questions that evaluate the likelihood of a given outcome on a Lik­ert scale of O ("highly likely") to 11 ("highly unlikely"). Individuals are also asked to indicate whether they might find themselves in a similar situation. The re­sponse outcomes are counterbalanced in terms of likelihood of the outcome and the severity of the outcome.

  • The resulting measures that can be scored from this scale are:
  • To what extent is person X responsible for the outcome? (responsibility)
  • How lucky was person X to obtain the outcome? (luck)
  • How hard did person X try to obtain the outcome? (effort)
  • To what extent is God responsible for the outcome? (attribution to God) (Gor­such & Smith, 1983, p. 343)

Practical Considerations: The test is self­ administered and is relatively easy to com­plete. Although the required reading level has not been formally established, original data collected by Gorsuch and Smith were from college students. No other special instructions or administrator skills are men­tioned.

Norms/Standardization: The original sam­ple on which the instrument findings are based consisted of 164 undergraduate stu­ dents taking social science, nursing, and re­ligion courses at a small evangelical Christ­ian college. Prior to being administered the four vignettes, subjects were presented with portions of the Religious Attitude Inventory (Broen, 1957), which focuses on Christian fundamentalism of belief and one's "near­ ness of God" (see review of Broen's instru­ment in this volume; also see the review of Gorsuch and Smith's Nearness to God Scale and Fundamentalism Scale).

Because of the size and selective nature of the sample, no comprehensive norms are available for the instrument. Gorsuch and Smith (1983) did provide some preliminary group averages on the extent to which individuals attributed responsibility to God for the story outcomes. For the Likert scale rating averaged across the various vi­gnettes, individuals with higher "funda­mentalism" scores (n = 145) had a mean of 8.5; those with lower "fundamentalism" scores (n = 16) had a mean of 5.8; those with higher "nearness to God" scores (n = 145) a mean of 8.2; and those with lower "nearness to God" scores (n = 8) a mean of 5.1.


Reliability coefficients are not available from Gorsuch and Smith (1983).


This instrument has reasonable construct validity in that individuals higher on the "fundamentalist" and on the "near­ ness to God" dimensions of religiosity at­ tributed more responsibility to God for ex­treme life event outcomes. Other studies using different measures of religiosity have noted similar findings (Ritzema, 1979; see review in this volume). Other assessments of validity with this measure have not been found.

Attributions of Responsibility to God: Four Vignettes

Note: Due to space constraints, experimental manipulations are included without repetition of other elements of the vignettes. The parentheses, underlining's, and labels (A, B, C, and D) do not appear in the original experimental booklet.

  1. A: low probability manipulation
  2. B: high probability manipulation
  3. C: mild outcome manipulation
  4. D: extreme outcome manipulation
  • M. was in counseling because of depression with the way things were going. M. had been feeling this way for (A: several months/ B: just a couple of weeks) and thought, "I might not snap out of it so I'd better see a counselor." Although M. didn't know it, this coun­selor (A: had only limited/ B: often had) success in treating depressed clients.

Outcome: After a number of sessions with the counselor, M. (C: was still a little depressed but was feeling somewhat better than at the beginning of counseling/ D: felt extremely better and felt rio more need for further counseling). M. said, "I feel like a changed person. I feel better than I have in years."

  • J. was moving to a new community. In the past, J. had (A: always/ B: never) found it difficult to get settled and feel comfortable in new places. Although J. was not aware of it before the move, new people in the town (to which J. was moving) had always found it (A: very hard/ B: easy) to feel comfortable and (A: difficult/ B: easy) to fit into the life of the community during the first few months.

Outcome: Three months after moving to the new community, J. was (C: somewhat content with/ D: extremely happy and even excited about) the way things were going.

  • D. was in the hospital because of a car accident. The doctor said that recovery would depend in part upon D's ability to maintain a positive attitude and a good emotional outlook. At first, D. was told to expect a (A: 75%/ B: 25%) chance of permanent disability remaining after discharge from the hospital.

Outcome: D. was out of the hospital (C: in the expected length of time/ D: much sooner than expected). There was (C: some relatively minor physical disability remaining after discharge. The doctor said that there was a good chance that this disability would not be permanent/ D: no permanent disability remaining after discharge). D. said, "I'm just glad to be alive!"

  • B. helped C. by offering C. a ride to a nearby town. They had met only a few days earlier. Although B. was not aware of it, C. was considered (A: hard/ B: easy) to get along with by most people, had very (A: few/ B: many) friends, and often expressed (A: little/ B: great) appreciation for personal favors.

Outcome: (C: C. saw the offer of the ride as a friendly act and expressed appreciation to B.I D: After their trip, a deep and lasting friendship developed. C. later told B. how much their relationship meant to C. It was obvious that C'.s life had change in a positive way.)


Gorsuch, R. L., & Smith, C. S. (I 983). Attribu­tions of responsibility to God: An interaction of re­ligious beliefs and outcomes. Journal for the Scien­tific Study of Religion, 22, 340-352.

Subsequent Research:

None located.


Broen, W. E. (1957). A factor analytic study of religious attitudes. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 54, 176-179.

Glock, C. Y., & Piazza, T. (1981). Exploring re­ality structures. In T. Robbins & D. Anthony (Eds.). In Gods we trust: New patterns of religious plural­ ism in America (pp. 67-83). New Brunswick: Transaction.

Lowe, C. A., & Medway, F. J. (1976). Effects of valence, severity, and relevance on responsibility and dispositional attribution. Journal of Personal­ity, 44, 518-538.

Proudfoot, W., & Shaver, P. (1975). Attribution theory and the psychology of religion. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 14, 317-380.

Ritzema, R. J. (1979). Attribution to supernat­ural causation: An important component of reli­gious commitment? Journal of Psychology and Theology, 7, 286-293.