Fritz Heider

German psychologist (1896-1988)

Fritz Heider (February 19, 1896 – January 2, 1988) was an Austrian psychologist whose work was related to the Gestalt school. In 1958 he published The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations, which expanded upon his creations of balance theory and attribution theory.



The psychology of interpersonal relations, 1958


Fritz Heider (1958), The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley

  • [Unlike objects, people are] usually perceived as action centers and as such can do something to us. They can benefit or harm us intentionally, and we can benefit or harm them. Persons have abilities, wishes, and sentiments; they can act purposefully, and can perceive or watch us. They are systems having an awareness of their surroundings and their conduct refers to this environment, an environment that sometimes includes ourselves.
    • p. 21 ; as cited in: Albert A. Harrison (1976), Individuals and Groups: Understanding Social Behavior, p. 88
  • One might say psychological processes such as motives, intentions, sentiments, etc., are the core processes which manifest themselves in overt behavior and expression in many variable ways.
    • p. 34
  • Man is usually not content simply to register the observables that surround him; he needs to refer them as far as possible to the invariances of his environment.. The underlying causes of events, especially the motives of other persons, are the invariances of the environment that are relevant to him; they give meaning to what he experiences and it is these meanings that are recorded in his life space and are precipitated as the reality of the environment to which he then reacts.
    • p. 81
  • The action outcome, x , may then be said to be dependent upon a combination of effective personal force and effective environmental force, thus:
x = f (ff person, ff environment).
One is tempted to formulate the underlying relation between the two independent variables as an additive one, for if the effective environmental force is zero (which would mean that the combination of environmental factors neither hinders nor furthers the result at), then x will depend only on the effective personal force.
    • p. 82
  • Personal causality, refers to instances in which p causes x intentionally. That is to say, the action is purposive.
    • p. 100
  • In the basic case, where the person is concerned with the dispositional properties of his surrounding environment, the choice is between external attribution and internal (self) attribution.
    • p. 194

Quotes about Fritz Heider

  • Central to Heider’s entire theoretical position is the proposition that man perceives behavior as being caused, and that the causal locus can be either in the perceiver or in the environment.
    • Albert H. Hastorf, David J. Schneider, and Judith Polefka. Person perception. (1970). p. 63; As cited in Bertram F."Malle, "Attribution theories: How people make sense of behavior." Theories in social psychology (2011): 72-95; p. 74
  • How do we search for the causal structure of interpersonal events? According to Heider, we do so by reliance upon attributions to the environment (external factors) or to something about the other person (internal factors).
    • Gifford Weary, John A. Edwards, and Shannon Riley. "Attribution." Encyclopedia of Human Behavior 1 (1994): 291-299; p. p. 292; as cited in Malle (2011, 74)
  • Heider began by assuming that just as objects have enduring qualities that determine their appearances, so people have stable psychological characteristics that determine their behavior.
    • Daniel T. Gilbert, "Ordinary personology." The handbook of social psychology 2 (1998): 89-150; p. 94; as cited in Malle (2011, 74)
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