The Fundamental Attribution Error
When we see someone do a small act of kindness, even one that is easily done and does nothing to setback the helper, how do we explain this behavior? Many times, we would answer immediately with “They are a helpful/kind/caring individual.” Is this always the case, however? Are there other factors that motivated the decision that have nothing to do with character? According to the fundamental attribution error, there are other factors and our reaction to attribute a helpful act to a helpful personality is, in fact, an error. In this essay I will discuss the specifics of the fundamental attribution error, how it occurs, various experiments that have been done which support the theory, and arguments against the theory. Definition
In the textbook Social Psychology the fundamental attribution error is defined as “the tendency to focus on the role of personal causes and underestimate the impact of situation on other people’s behavior (107).” This is a concise definition, describing a person’s habit of judging conduct on personality. The theory is also known as correspondence bias because of the corresponding link it emphasizes between character and behaviors. Along with being very common, the fundamental attribution error has been shown to be very pervasive. Even in experiments where participants are made aware of the fundamental attribution error or the situation before asking to describe something about a person, they tend to make the same type of error. The Process Behind the Theory
Neurologically speaking, it cannot be said with certainty what causes the fundamental attribution error at this point in time but there is one hypothesis with a great deal of supporting evidence. Attribution theorists believe there are two-steps involved when a person makes a perception of others. In the first step, we perceive a person’s behavior and make a quick judgment of the personal factors involved. In the second-step, we adjust our judgment...
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