The Importance of the Fundamental Attribution Error

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In everyday life, people often make snap judgments about others. They say, "That girl is so dumb because she failed a test" or "that boy is so mean all of the time" without ever getting to know the true facts. Regardless of whether it is true, people automatically assume dispositional influences on others' behaviors: that their behavior is due to who they are as a person (their personality traits, their intelligence, etc.). This idea of the fundamental attribution error, overestimating the role of dispositional influences on others' behavior, will be a psychological concept that I will remember for years to come.

These judgments about dispositional influences are harmful as they cause us to think poorly of a person's character based solely on one instance in which external influences aren't taken into account. Situational influences also need to be considered before making an assumption about the person's traits. Perhaps the girl failed her test because she was awake all night working on her homework. Maybe the boy seems mean because he just went through a break-up and is having a hard time dealing with it emotionally. Sometimes, situations make people act in ways contrary to their character, making others assume negative characteristics about them that simply aren't true.

Consequently, this concept of the fundamental attribution error will stick with me for years due to its important yet practical applications to everyday life. Although it may be argued that dispositional influences aren't always bad, they can still lead to faulty conclusions. As the age old proverb goes, "don't judge a book by its cover." There may be more to a person than meets the eye, and there may be more influences behind a person's behavior that can't be understood by general assumptions.

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This page contains a single entry by weinm027 published on November 29, 2011 3:05 PM.

Five Years From Now: Parenting Styles was the previous entry in this blog.

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