Sometimes, and probably more often than we like to admit, a heavy emphasis is put on personality characteristics (internal factors) to explain someone’s behavior in a given situation, rather than thinking about situational factors (external) contributing to the results. This phenomenon is often referred to as the fundamental attribution error. The flip side of the fundamental attribution error is the actor-observer bias, in which people tend to over-emphasize the significance of a situation in their behaviors and under-emphasize the role of their personality characteristics. My guess is that the latter bias, is quite useful as a defense to our self esteem – but also a hard nut to crack when it comes to self-improvement. In combination, these two thinking patterns are and explosive mix which. In the following I’ve made some personal notes on how to avoid these traps and try to assess situations and results more objectively.
What can I do avoid making the fundamental attribution error?
Being human, I believe it is virtually impossible to avoid making attributions from time to time. It is probably a combination of brain efficiency – .
To avoid making the fundamental attribution error, one of the best things you can do is “put yourself in the other
person’s shoes,” as the old saying goes. By thinking about what you might do in the same situation, you might come up with some situational factors for a behavior which could shed more light on the subject.
In addition, asking the question: Why would a intelligent, rational and decent human being do this?
I think awareness of a common cognitive bias can help you look for hidden behavioral factors, making you a better observer and better able to read people and situations. Finally, when you are trying to explain your own behavior, avoid indulging the actor-observer effect, and make sure to give your personality some credit for your actions.
“Some things have to be believed to be seen.”
– Ralph Hodgson
After all, it is about respect and decency, isn’t it?