Talk:Fundamental attribution error

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Were Jones and Harris telling their subjects the truth?[edit]

I take it that in the Jones and Harris study, speakers were in fact told which stance to take on the basis of a coin flip (otherwise the result would be unremarkable). I think this needs to be made clearer. Josh Cherry 14:54, 14 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Even if this were the case, the premise of the study is deeply flawed. It could simply be that the subjects didn't believe that someone could make a decent pro-Castro speech without being sympathetic to Castro. It's all well and good to tell a subject something but that doesn't mean they're going to believe you. Human beings aren't robots, despite claims to the contrary.
Also, social situationism (the position which the fundamental attribution error principle was invented to support) may explain phenomena like propaganda, mass murder and torture, but it has limits. People who have an innate sense of responsibility or question authority or other such simply can't become propagandists, mass murderers and torturers. The way it plays out in practice is that they will "just happen" to never find themselves in those situations, because they consciously and unconsciously steer clear of them and everyone they meet collaborates with them on this (especially the governments who would hire them). What that means is that there is a background to the fundamental attribution error which shapes the ways it operates.
Finally, depression is known to play a key role in attribution. When someone is depressed, they will correctly attribute the result of random choices to random forces. They will also attribute the result of ordered choices to random forces, especially their own .... 07:55, 4 December 2005 (UTC)

Everyday example[edit]

Isn't it noticing other people even when you are under pressure that makes the difference between a jerk and a gentleman? —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Shakespearesfool (talkcontribs).

I thought the same thing when I read that. If the person cuts in front of you because he's too busy paying attention to his children, that still makes him a jerk, just as much as cutting in front of you intentionally. Tkircher
Absolutely. Your observation demonstrates why material in the "social sciences" is just so much nonsense. These people take ordinary common observations and give them a hi-falutin pseudo-scientific name and presto--we have a scientific phenomenon about which we can do research, discuss, quantify, and apply for government grants. Really. 07:11, 21 July 2006 (UTC)
Um, no. First, the difference between social science results and 'common observations' is that the first are testable, and tested, hypotheses. Second, the 'everyday example' above isn't an example of FAE: as clearly explained here and in the article, FAE occurs when we misattribute things people do to innate characteristics rather than to external forces (chance, social pressure, etc.). This doesn't have anything to do with tendentious definitions of 'jerk'. Sam Clark 08:45, 14 August 2006 (UTC)

Confusion with actor-observer bias[edit]

The first paragraph states that it is "frequently confused with the actor-observer bias", but the link to "actor-observer bias" redirects back to this page! The confusion obviously also appears on Wikipedia...

Also, the "Layman's terms" section seems to me (a layman) that it might be making the same error. The examples given seem to illustrate different perceptions depending on whether one is the actor or the observer, rather than any difference between individuals in the attribution of causes. Mswake 11:14, 14 June 2006 (UTC)

  • I was quite dumbfounded by this myself. The sorting out here needs some help badly. Either both pages should redirect to a new page named 'Attribution errors,' or AOE should have it's own page. I'll give the definitions for both out of the two texts I have open at the moment, which will hopefully help in getting everyone clear which is which.
FAE, source 1
The tendency to make internal attributions for people's behavior, even when an observer sees evidence for an external influence.
FAE, source 2
The tendency to attribute other people's behavior to dispositional (internal) cues rather than situational (external) causes.
AOE, source 1
The tendency to attribute internal causes more ofter for other people's behavior and external attributions more often for one's own behavior.
AOE, source 2
The tendency to attribute the behavior of others to internal (dispositional) causes but to attribute one's own behavior to situational causes.
Hopefully the difference here is clear. Most notably, AOE deals with the difference in frequency of internal/external attributions for first vs. third person views of the same behavior. For anyone steping up to better define things in the article, the primary source for FAE seems to be: Ross, L. (1977). The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: Distortions int he attribution process. In Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol 10, pp 173-220. Good luck. (My excuse for not doing it? Studying). --JMD (talkcontribs) 03:00, 13 July 2006 (UTC)
  • Addendum: the AOE particularly applies to failures. --JMD (talkcontribs) 03:04, 13 July 2006 (UTC)
I've added a {{disputed}} tag to the "Layman's terms" section, as it seems completely wrong. It's not even an accurate description of the actor-observer bias; it seems to be a blend of the actor-observer bias, the positivity effect, and the negativity effect. —RuakhTALK 01:36, 16 December 2006 (UTC)

Discussion moved here from article[edit]

I've reverted this edit: User: may well have a point but the discussion does not belong in the article.

Please discuss the removed content on the talk page:

  • I think that these examples may be of the actor-observer discrepancy, I'll provide another example that may be better suited:
You see two men lifting a file cabinet. When they tip it over the drawers all slide out and the contents of the cabinet come crashing to the floor. You immediately arrive at the conclusion that these two men must not be too bright. You come to that conclusion as a result of the fundamental attribution error; after all, it's possible that the lock on the drawers broke, or there may be some other explanation for their mishap.

AvB ÷ talk 12:41, 3 September 2006 (UTC)

An actor-observer bias page has been added distinguishing its effects from those of the fundamental attribution error. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Peace01234 (talkcontribs).

Why I removed "When people think of themselves, they attribute successes to personal strengths ...."[edit]

I took out the "Informal explanation" beginning "When people think of themselves, they attribute successes to personal strengths ...."

Because yes, as other discussers said, those paragraphs are about the actor-observer discrepancy, not FAE. They discuss the differenece in FAE as applied the self and as applied to the other.

Incidentally, the two paragraphs ignored all the people who think in contrary fashion to the self-flattery described in the two paragraphs. These people are often called humble or neurotic. Consider Woody Allen, Warren Buffett, etc.

The FAE article is really about the behavior of others; most of the FAE and AOB articles are nonjudgmental about the behavior being analyzed. If we want to introduce a new issue -- value judgments about the behaviors -- we need to do so more clearly than the two paragraphs did.

Does FAE generally become inverted when the topic changes to unpleasant aspects of the self? Under the influence of AOB, I attribute unpleasant aspects of others to their dispositions and I attribute unpleasant aspects of myself to my situation?

TH 08:54, 21 December 2006 (UTC)

Doesn't occur in China[edit]

As mentioned in Asian Psychology Coming of Age, FAE doesn't occur in China: Culture and Cause: American and Chinese Attributions for Social and Physical Events —Preceding unsigned comment added by TRS-80 (talkcontribs) 13:52, 22 December 2007 (UTC)

a good example might be how in the 12 step program alcoholics are told to accept that things are controlled by a higher power[edit]

Gladwell paragraph[edit]

I'm a fan of Gladwell, but the paragraph in the lead mentioning him seems to be in the wrong article. There are the odd mentions of "essence" and "soft-spoken" definitions, the topic doesn't even seem to be a bias, and the definition offered seems to be of the Halo Effect, not the FAE. I think this is seriously misleading in an article about the FAE. As for the third para of the lead, can it be moved into the article? A decent article will have a lead that's primarily about FAE, not so much about the etymology of naming it.MartinPoulter (talk) 16:30, 2 December 2008 (UTC)

Another introductory ref[edit]

Stuart Sutherland (1994) Irrationality: the Enemy Within. Penguin paperback (ISBN: 0140167269), reissued 2007 as "Irrationality" by Pinter and Martin (ISBN: 978-1-905177-07-3), Chapter 14, "Mistaking the Cause"

Great introduction for lay people by a psychologist.MartinPoulter (talk) 16:33, 2 December 2008 (UTC)

FAE edit[edit]

Hey there, i'm new to Wikipedia, but i hope you don't mind my tinsy edit to the opening paragraph--jBeing helpful, and learning tricks of the trade as i go :)

ToasterCoster (talk) 02:39, 27 December 2008 (UTC)

Welcome and thanks for filling out the lead. I think we need to make sure we use clear, succinct English, especially in the lead, to make the article to as wide an audience as possible. This means avoiding long sentences with multiple clauses and unnecessary terminology. As such, I disagree with some of what you've done. "under-valuing or unacknowledging the potentiality" does not seem to be an improvement on "under-emphasizing". Likewise, to say that the FAE "is the tendency" is more clear than "reflects our erroneous cognitive tendency". A definition of FAE is better as a statement of what it is that what it reflects (what does the latter even mean?) Also, you've introduced a distinction between "the observed behaviors of others" and "the behavioural motives of others". Is this distinction crucial to understanding FAE? If, not why use space in the article to make it? "we tend to prefer to interpreting our actions" is a grammatical error. Where the original had "influencing" you have "compel"- this makes a strong claim about the relation between environment and behaviour. "overattribution" shouldn't be a link. "stands in direct opposition to"- what does this mean? Contradict? Want to have another go?MartinPoulter (talk) 17:12, 3 January 2009 (UTC)
My god you're a supersilious sod... care to finish this sentence:

"Likewise, to say that the FAE "is the tendency" is more clear than "reflects our erroneous cognitive tendency"." ...and stop having a go at people's English when yours is pretty ropey itself.

"A definition of FAE is better as a statement of what it is that what it reflects (what does the latter even mean?)" Yeah, what do you actually mean!?!

""overattribution" shouldn't be a link." Why not?!

Then again, why do I even care. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:53, 16 February 2010 (UTC)

Cultural Differences in the Error to Tell us what the Test Was[edit]

That section could possibly be about very high quality and important psychological research, but I have no idea what tests and experiments it was referencing. It's just not explained. I have a hard time believing a word of it, written as it is. I actually live in Japan and find people making FAE so much it bothers me. If there were evidence that east Asians tend not to make it, I would have found it greatly interesting. Unfortunately it's a disappointment. Can someone get the info? (Ejoty (talk) 05:18, 26 June 2009 (UTC))

Hard to understand[edit]

The introduction is really hard to understand. I read wikipedia a lot, and this article is especially really hard to understand even what the term is about. It should start with a simple definition of what a 'Fundamental attribution error' is, with a simple example, before starting to discuss it. In fact, I'ld say, take the discussion out and stick it into the body. (talk) 12:52, 5 August 2009 (UTC)

The first sentence is pretty bad, and when someone "corrected" unacknowledging to acknowledging that clearly didn't help. But I think the second sentence says it clearly enough: In other words, people predominantly presume that the actions of others are indicative of the "kind" of person they are, rather than the kind of situations that compels their behavior.
I'm a complete layman, but to get the discussion rolling, how about starting with something like the following:
In attribution theory, the fundamental attribution error is a theory describing the fact that we all tend to explain others' behavior by their personalities. The discrepancy between this cognitive bias and our tendency to explain our own behavior by the circumstances is known as the actor-observer bias.
Hans Adler 13:51, 5 August 2009 (UTC)

Deeper Expaination[edit]

  My comment are not intended to lead to an edit of the page. It strikes me that FAE is a method by which people classify and categorize their observations and experiences. 

A tomato has two classifications, one as a fruit and one as a vegitable. The common (and not necessarily erroneous) classification as a vetgetable is in terms of how it tastes, how it it used, and where we buy it. It isn't sweet like a fruit, we use it like a vegetable, and it is in the vegatable isle of the store. On the other hand, it contains seeds, comes from the part of the plant that bears fruits and results in the growth of a new plant when it falls to the ground.

In a general sense, people classify things according to a number of different methods, some of which are

    What does it look like. (Physical)
    How does it make me feel. (Subjective)
    What causes it. (Causal)
    What does it cause.  (Symptoms)
    What affects it or changes it. 
    How does it affect me. 
    How do I use it. (Use)
    What do I have to do to deal with it.

These are then compared to other similar observations. The additional traits of the secondary observation are then take to be appropriately applied to the first. Here in lies the connection between the actor-observer effect, FAE, predudice, and a number of attribution methods.

I wish I had time to say more. I wish that this thread could be found in the academic journals. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Dogsinlove (talkcontribs) 14:10, 1 September 2009 (UTC)


I removed this paragraph from under "Reducing the error's effects". It does seem to have a point and some of that should perhaps be sourced and worked into the section on explanations.

We, therefore, engage in intricate evaluation of each circumstance. And we attribute personality causes because of knowledge and expectancy of a 'responsible human' who maintains a certain standard of 'being human' (consensus information). If situational factors formed the basis of automatic response to actions and events, conceivably, this will lead to the loss of personal responsibility.He made me do it, It made me do it. As such, Fundamental Attribution Error cannot be explained away as an 'error or a crime' that humans 'commit or fall victim to' but rather it is the scrutiny of information that is immediately available to the scrutinizer and also of a 'global expectation of being human'. For instance, that humans are responsible. Furthermore, 'conclusions' are always liable and open to revision with the availability of new information.

Acdx (talk) 09:19, 10 January 2010 (UTC)

Logical Fallacy[edit]

Isn't this just a fancy way of dressing up an ancient logical fallacy in the emperor's new clothes of "social science"?

This article should contain some reference to logical fallacies such as: Affirming_the_consequent

...especially if you're bunging a psychology article in with philosophy! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:46, 16 February 2010 (UTC)

RE: "Fundamental attribution error" vs. "Correspondence bias"[edit]

Regarding the FAE vs the CB; is it not so that a bias is the basis for the effect (the result)? Where the effect would be the FAE. So the correspondence bias would be the basis for the fundamental attribution error. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:37, 1 December 2012 (UTC)

"Everyday example"[edit]

The main article currently presents this as an example of the fundamental attribution error:

 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 tripped over the same rock herself, she would be more likely to blame the placement of the rock (situational).

This is clearly an example of the actor-observer bias, which is distinct from the FAE. In fact, the paragraph preceding the example makes this explicit:

[FAE] 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.

I replaced the example with another one, which, while admittedly a bit clumsy, actually illustrates the effect of the FAE. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:00, 24 December 2012 (UTC)

I guess it is the clumsiness that worries me. But I will not revert it again. meshach (talk) 19:17, 24 December 2012 (UTC)

Correspondence bias and the fundamental attribution error are two different concepts[edit]

I was surprised to discover that Correspondence bias is a redirect and that it is described as another term for the fundamental attribution error (FAE). The FAE and correspondence bias are not one and the same. FAE is the underestimation of situational influences on behavior. By contrast, correspondence bias is to draw dispositional inferences from behavior although the behavior is influenced by situational factors. The FAE has been proposed as an explanation for correspondence bias. To quote a 2004 review article by Bertram Gawronski (p. 208, "Implications"):

"First, the present analyses provide further support for recent claims to consider the correspondence bias and the fundamental attribution error as two different phenomena (e.g., Hamilton, 1998; Krull, 2001)... the labels 'fundamental attribution error' and 'correspondence bias' are often used interchangeably to refer to one and the same phenomenon. In contrast to this rather widespread equation, however, some researchers argued that the correspondence bias should be considered as the tendency to draw correspondent dispositional inferences from situationally constrained behaviour, whereas the fundamental attribution error should be considered as the tendency to underestimate situational influences on human behaviour in terms of a causal theory... In other words, the correspondence bias and the fundamental attribution error seem to be two potentially related, but actually independent phenomena. Moreover, even though there is strong evidence for the correspondence bias, the available data offer no evidence for the assumption that the correspondence bias is due to the fundamental attribution error."

I think that we should rename the article "Correspondence bias" and mention the FAE in the Explanations section. --Sonicyouth86 (talk) 17:57, 4 April 2013 (UTC)

Also note that the explanations section may explain the correspondence bias but not the FAE. The just-world hypothesis and lack of effortful adjustment explain why people do not apply their knowledge of situational factors (e.g., because the want to believe that the world is just or they lack motivation or cognitive resources), not why people underestimate situational influences. --Sonicyouth86 (talk) 18:59, 4 April 2013 (UTC)

Reckless driver example should be replaced[edit]

It is falsely asserted here that running a red light is not reckless, if you are rushing someone to a hospital emergency room. To the contrary, emergency responders of all kinds (from law enforcement; fire departments; ambulance services) are trained and required by policy to slow or even stop at red traffic signals or stop signs, and not to proceed until it is safe to do so. If they, or anyone else, were to simply run a red light, it would indeed be reckless. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 19:54, 4 July 2013

Hi, I agree with you! Would you have a better example? Lova Falk talk 08:48, 3 August 2013 (UTC)

Statement with strange reference: past lives referenced to R.J. Wooger[edit]

See please comment there Andries (talk) 15:55, 2 January 2014 (UTC)

Are we missing the natural explanation for FAE?[edit]

(As this is my first substantive suggestion, I may be guilty of introducing a personal opinion - If so please remove it) I was surprised to see no reference to the natural explanation for FAE, ie that the observer is likely to be correct in many (most?) circumstances. In the example of the person running the red light, the observer is presumably using his judgement that in the majority of such cases, the "reckless" assumption will in fact be correct, and that the "situational" explanation will in reality be rare. Our survival has always depended on making snap judgements on the basis of incomplete information. Most of the time we get it right - if we didn't we'd lose the survival race - although sometimes through lack of information (eg knowledge of the surrounding circumstances) we get it wrong. Our so-called "bias" is therefore often a healthy thing - it means that we reach the right decision in the majority of cases, something that enhances our chances of survival.

I am not knowlegable enough on the topic to know if this is a widely held point of view (and therefore ought to be included in the article), or simply my own erroneous analysis (and therefore should be binned). I have no references to offer. Kenny.devon (talk) 20:03, 19 January 2015 (UTC)

Requesting a few amendments to the page's structure - for novice readers.[edit]

Firstly, thank you to everyone who has contributed to create this page I feel as though I now have some understanding of a topic that was brand new to me.

As a novice I found the addition of correctness, which is interwoven extensively throughout the page, distracting rather than helpful. Is it actually pertinent to the definition and subsequent explanation?

The opening definitional statement makes point that attribution error is the tendency to seek an internal reference when trying to explain a event; and in doing so, often ignoring a multitude of external factors that would also explain the event. However the example also then goes on and refers to the act of internal referencing as an error. I found this distracting as is it not self evident that it the definition of an error must therefore be an error?.

It also places the reader immediately within this "right/wrong" dichotomy rather than what I thought the definition was alluding to; "an action that is almost forgetfully narrow minded". It seemed to me from reading this page, that it was as though the person needs to be nudged and reminded that many other factors are at play. Is not the error therefore the process? Not the result?

Isn't it suggesting that this process excludes pertinent information often needed to better or more accurately explain an event? By using an example which makes explicit that the internal referencing was incorrect, and the external correct; adds another level of unnecessary complexity. This process is an error of interpretation that excludes other relevant information. I don't think its important or correct to elevate the internal process as 'always incorrect' and the external always correct. I very much doubt that is in fact the case. I don't know? I didn't see any references to research on how often this processing error leads to correct or incorrect assessments.

Regardless, even then it will be by matter of degree. Is not the central argument simply that people have a tendency to process information in a particular way that excludes information not at hand, external to the immediate viewing, and instead draw internally to produce understanding. And because of that subjectivity, we often see things incompletely or partially or quite inaccurately. Isn't it the processing of information that is pertinent to the definition? Not this ongoing thread of correct and incorrect. Isn't it more about clarity, perspectives and subjectivity?

My 2nd request - this page introduces a number of new theoretical terms to the reader. It also plays them against each other in an attempt to elicit variance between the terms and to produce greater clarity of meaning. Perhaps to a more seasoned reader this is sufficient? However, I found it often deflected and distracted rather than added clarity. The main reason, I believe I struggled to gain as greater clarity as I had hoped for, was the absence of more examples, especially working examples, where the term is employed in such a way to distinguish itself from other terminology used. So in that regard the examples need a two pronged objective. First, to elucidate and produce greater clarity, and second, to highlight how it is both similar and different to the other terminology.

I hope I don't seem critical or negative way? The fact is the page intrigued me enough that I completed reading the full text, something I rarely do. I just know that for me and perhaps other learned but still novice readers, the addition of a few more examples and practical situations would be very helpful. And add to the educational benefit of this page immensely. Thank you.