A Psychology Minute: Fundamental Attribution Error

Have you ever thought to yourself, “He is an anxious guy,” or “she seems kind of edgy?” As human beings, one of the most instinctive things we do is make judgments about people we meet. But in doing so, we are particularly prone to what is called the fundamental attribution error (FAE), also known as the correspondence bias or attribution effect. It is the tendency to attribute a person’s presentation to internal characteristics (such as traits) more than situational factors.

So, if Molly seems kind of edgy and abrupt, we are more likely to see her as an edgy and abrupt person than to consider she might be dealing with difficult circumstances, such as a loss of a job or chronic illness that leaves her fatigued and worn. Ironically, we tend to the do the opposite for ourselves. We are more likely to give credence to how circumstances affect our mood and demeanor.

So, the next time we meet or are getting to know someone, it would be good for us to remember the fundamental attribution error and not be too quick to make judgments about who they are any more than we would do about ourselves.

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