Date of Award


Document type


Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Environmental Conservation

First Advisor

David K. Loomis

Second Advisor

John T. Finn

Third Advisor

Gary C. Matlock

Subject Categories

Environmental Sciences


This study sought to connect two bodies of knowledge--integrative complexity and attribution theory. Integrative complexity is a term that indicates the simplicity vs. complexity of a person's mental frame and perceptual skill. A person who perceives nuance and subtle differences typically scores higher on an integrative complexity measure. Attribution theories are concerned with how individuals perceive causation for various events. The limited research into the linkages between perceived causation for an event and how complexly a person thinks about the domain of that event, coupled with the dearth of attribution research in the natural resource management literature, inspired this research. Florida Keys coral reef users were sent a mail questionnaire between July 2009 and March 2010. Integrative complexity level was determined using an index that was developed for this research. Based on attributional and cognitive complexity literature, it was hypothesized that people who score lower in integrative complexity would exhibit an "external" attribution pattern. Integrative complexity was also proposed to influence: attitude and value extremity; number of perceived problem causes; and use of mediated communication. Finally, it was hypothesized that individuals will assign more blame to other groups than to their own. Six of the study's seven null hypotheses were rejected: 1) a significant relationship was found between integrative complexity level and the number of causes that respondents recorded for the decline of the Florida Keys reef ecosystem, 2) significant differences were observed in attitude extremity according to integrative complexity, 3) significant differences were observed in value orientation according to integrative complexity, 4) significant differences were observed in value extremity according to integrative complexity level, 5) significant differences were observed in mediated communication according to integrative complexity level, and 6) significant differences were observed in blame pattern according to group affiliation. Only one null hypothesis was not rejected: no support was found for a connection between integrative complexity and attribution style. These results indicate support for the integrative complexity index, though work to refine the measure seems in order. Additional recommendations for future research include investigating new approaches to examining the relationship between integrative complexity and attribution style.