In psychology, an attribution bias is a cognitive bias that refers to the systematic errors made when people evaluate or try to find reasons for their own and others’ behaviours. these attributions do not always accurately reflect reality.
Attribution biases are present in everyday life, and therefore are an important and relevant topic to study. For example, when a driver cuts us off, we are more likely to attribute blame to the reckless driver (e.g., “What a jerk!”), rather than situational circumstances (e.g., “Maybe they were in a rush and didn’t notice me”).
Imagine you have an urgent tasks to complete and you need to do it with your partner, Betty. But the problem is she’s like really late. Your brain is quick to connect the dots. She doesn’t care. She really lacks discipline.
Well, your brain just took a common shortcut called the fundamental attribution error. When witnessing another person’s behaviour leading to a negative outcome. We tend to attribute that behaviour to their intrinsic nature while under estimating situational factors. Because of the fundamental attribution error you now have a negative perception of Betty and it further affects your judgment of Betty’s actions. Every mistake she makes now amplifies that negative perception.
Because of that you decide to handle your next project all by yourself, and end up working very late to complete it. The next morning. Your alarm clock doesn’t ring for some reason. Plus, there was some delay is commuting. The result is… you’re late to work. Apologizing to your boss, you feel guilty.
But there was nothing you could have done! It’s just one of those days where everything goes wrong. You’ve just followed another brain shortcut called the self-serving bias. When we analyze our own behaviour leading to a negative outcome, we attributed to situational factors instead of our own intrinsic nature in order to see ourselves more positively.
Let’s wrap up. The fundamental attribution error is when we attribute someone else’s behavior to their intrinsic nature because we lack information about situational factors. On the other hand, we tend to attribute our own behaviour to external factors in order to protect our self-esteem.
The important takeaway is that they are both subjective attributions looking at both intrinsic and external factors is key to learn and grow.