Click Map for Details

Flag Counter

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fundamental Attribution Error

In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error (also known as correspondence bias or attribution effect) describes the tendency to over-value dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors. The fundamental attribution error is most visible when people explain the behavior of others. It does not explain interpretations of one's own behavior—where situational factors are often taken into consideration. This discrepancy is called the actor–observer bias.

As a simple example, if Alice saw Bob trip over a rock and fall, Alice might consider Bob to be clumsy or careless (dispositional). If Alice later tripped over the same rock herself, she would be more likely to blame the placement of the rock (situational).

The term was coined by Lee Ross[1] some years after a now-classic experiment by Edward E. Jones and Victor Harris (1967).[2] Ross argued in a popular paper that the fundamental attribution error forms the conceptual bedrock for the field of social psychology. (Wikipedia
This brings to mind Jesus’s warning regarding judging others:

New International Version (NIV)
Matthew 7: 1-5

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

The first point Jesus makes is that personality-based judgments frequently results in an almost reflexive countercharge—you accuse me of being clumsy or careless, you are the one who is clumsy or careless.  The person who just stumbled over a rock feels the injustice of the accuser overlooking any situational causes (the rock was misplaced in the first place) and so responds with a personality-based judgment of their own.  And, indeed, when one jumps to blaming character flaws in total disregard of situational causes one is being negligent in accessing the facts.  While carelessness is certainly a possible cause, it tells more about the observer than the observed if one jumps willy-nilly to judgmental responses rather than situational explanations.  In fact, if one loved others as they loved themselves, there would be a tendency to withhold personality-based judgments in favor of situational assessments.

What is “the plank…in your own eye” but a blind inclination to reflexively put others down—to seek to feel superior over your brother?  Hence the hypocrisy—you are not really interested in your brother at all (as you claim to be) but instead wish only to enhance your own reputation for rectitude.  Jesus flat-out judges people with this selfish tendency—a tendency of one-upmanship ingrained in the human heart and something to be overcome.

Print Page