Social Psychology


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 Ψ  Fundamental Attribution Error


Attribution (basics)

    Ψ  Attributions are the things we point to as the cause of events, other people’s behaviors, & our own behaviors.

    Ψ  Internal Attributions are explanations of behavior based on the internal characteristics or dispositions of the person performing the behavior.

    Ψ  External Attributions are explanations of behavior based on the external circumstances or situations.

    Ψ  The Covariation model is a theory that states that to form an attribution about what caused a person's behavior, we systematically note that pattern between the presence or absence of possible causal factors and whether or not the behavior occur.

         Ψ  Covariation factors:
         • The consensus variable answers the question, do multiple people behave the same way in the same situation? If the answer is yes, then consensus is high. If the answer is no, then consensus is low.
         •  Consistency means determining whether the person engages in this behavior every time he or she is in a particular situation.
         •  Distinctiveness means determining how differently the person behaves in one situation when compared to other situations.

    •  When a behavior is high in all three of these criteria, we tend to see a person's motive as situational. When consistency is high but the other two criteria are low, then we tend to see a behavior as motivated by dispositional factors. Notice that in order for us to make a confident attribution judgment, consistency must be high - that is, the individual must always or usually behave this way in a given situation.

    Ψ  Two 'rules' (general tendencies) in attribution are the discounting rule, a tendency to discount dispositional factors when a behavior is what is expected in the situation, & the augmentation rule, a tendency toward dispositional attributions when a behavior is contrary to what is expected in a situation.

The Fundamental Attribution Error  FAE

    Ψ  In attribution theory, the fundamental attribution error a.k.a. correspondence bias,  is the tendency for people to over-emphasize dispositional, or personality-based, explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role & power of situational influences on the same behavior.

    Ψ  In other words, people tend to have a default assumption that what a person does is based more on what "kind" of person he or she is, rather than the social and environmental forces at work on that person. This default assumption leads to people sometimes making erroneous explanations for behavior. This general bias to over-emphasizing dispositional explanations for behavior at the expense of situational explanations is much less likely to occur when people evaluate their own behavior (Actor/Observer Difference).

    Ψ  Actor/Observer Difference: People who are observing an action are much more likely than the actor to make the fundamental attribution error.

    Ψ  There is some evidence to support the contention that cultures which tend to emphasize the individual over the group ("individualistic" cultures - like ours) tend to make more dispositional attributions than do the "collectivist" cultures. Persons living in more individualistic societies may be more likely to commit the fundamental attribution error(Miller,1984).

The Halo Effect - another attribution error

    Ψ  The extension of an overall impression of a person (or one particular outstanding trait) to influence the total judgment of that person. The effect is to evaluate an individual high on many traits because of a belief that the individual is high on one trait. Similar to this is the 'devil effect', whereby a person evaluates another as low on many traits because of a belief that the individual is low on one trait which is assumed to be critical.

Social Psychology
 Robert C. Gates