Fundamental attribution error

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In attribution theory, the fundamental attribution error (also known as correspondence bias or overattribution effect) is the tendency for people to over-emphasize dispositional, or personality-based, explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing situational explanations. In other words, people have an unjustified tendency to assume that a person's actions depend on what "kind" of person that person is rather than on the social and environmental forces influencing the person. Overattribution is less likely, perhaps even inverted, when people explain their own behavior; this discrepancy is called the actor-observer bias.

Activity[edit | edit source]

Hand out two copies to each student of the attribution scale. Ask them to complete the scale twice – once for themselves and once for George Bush. After they have completed both forms, have them count the number of times they circled “depends on the situation” on each rating sheet. A show of hands should show that a greater tendency to attribute another person’s behaviour to personal disposition, while attributing their own behaviour to the environment. Ask students why this is the case and discuss.

We tend to attribute causation to the focus of our attention, which is different when we are observing than when we are acting. When another person acts, our focus is on that person, thus they are the cause of what is happening. When we act, the environment commands our attention and thus seems to explain our behaviour.

See also[edit | edit source]