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Flashcards in Attribution: Errors & Biases Deck (12)
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Fundamental Attribution Error

Tendency for people to overemphasize internal (dispositional) explanations of behavior and underemphasize external (situational) explanations

o aka Correspondence bias

o Often used to explain prejudices


Fundamental Attribution Error: Jones and Harris "Assigned Essay Paradigm"

Writers of essays were either assigned or chose to write a pro-Castro essay

The participants were asked to decide the true attitude of the writer when the essay was assigned, not chosen

Pro-Castro essay writers, even when the pro-Castro stance was assigned, were judged to be supportive of Castro--> dispositional


Fundamental Attribution Error: Quiz Game Studies

Ross, Amabile and Steinmetz (1977)
Quiz Game Study- participants are assigned as either quizmaster or contestant or observer

Contestants rated the quizmasters as knowledgeable.

Quizmasters rate themselves as slightly more knowledgeable.

Observer rated the quizmasters as Much more knowledgeable.

Yzerbyt et al: Quiz game follow up

They varied the Entitativity: the degree to with group is seen to fit together: Higher entity→ people are more of a unit

High Entitativity
–Contestants were from same university

Low Entitativity
–Contestants were from different colleges.

Fundamental attribution error is stronger in the high entitativity group
–they are considered to be part of a team, and thus have similar attributes.

**Fundamental attribution error also is applied to groups


Fundamental Attribution Error. Clinical Implications

Can lead to prejudice – we blame dispositions

Diagnosis treats problem as internal factor but we may fail to look at additional situational factors

Patient sees himself fitting into a role of a person with problems, may create greater focus on problems, and therefore may appear more pathological

Fundamental attribution error is more likely to occur with negative behaviors

DSM diagnosis sets the stage for a dispositional conclusions and less of a combination of situational and external factors

Also, possible, that if patient doesn’t come back, FAE overemphasize dispositional factors and clinician may blame themselves


Fundamental Attribution Error: Constraints

*People we know well

*Sexual attribution bias – distort interpretations of others if they are a potential mate


*Firsthand experience of a situation will decrease

*Time-if given some time to think about people start to

think about situation.

*Depressed people use more analytical style and focus on details

*Suspicion--we tend to be more analytical

*Collectivist cultures– potentially more attuned to situational factors

*negative behavior
*when personally advantageous


Construal Level Theory

Perceivers construct more abstract representations of distant future events than near future events

High level construal (when more distant) are more general, schematic, decontextualized
*psychological distance

Low level construal (when closer) are more concrete, contextualized, richer

E.g. NY students read paragraph from NY author or Italian author – for the Italian author which is more distant – more space, – they made more general, more dispositional attributions→ more FAE for Italian author than NY author

Creativity: people show more creativity when they think more distantly → more abstract way.

We are more creative with coming up for a solution for a friend vs ourselves

Stereotypes: stereotype more with more distance - high level construals

Negative events
First person, self immersed perspective = greater emotional / physiological reaction


Actor-observer Effect

Tendency for actors to attribute their actions to situational requirements, whereas observers tend to attribute the same actions to stable person dispositions

Informational factors, motivational factors
- We have more knowledge about ourselves and have the motivation to think of ourselves in a good light

Perceptual/attentional focus
– POV determines attribution
– Observe the person, attribute disposition
– As the actor, you do not observe yourself per se, more context, attribute situational factors

Mainly found when judging negative behaviors


Self-Centered Bias

Taking more than one’s share of responsibility for a jointly produced outcome

Gilovich, Kruger, Savitsky, 1999
• Each member in a marriage believe (s)he is doing a majority of the work
• Cognitive availability of information – people have a much easier time remembering their own inputs than those other partner

*Participants were not self-interested agents (taking more credit for good than bad), but they expected their partners to be, so they are more self-interest theorists

*assign tasks before project begins
* get people to attend to others' activity
*simple awareness of the bias may remove motivational attribution, i.e. it's a bias that occurs without intentionality


Spotlight Effect

Believe the social spotlight shines more brightly on ourselves than it really does

Self-conscious awareness of our presence
e.g. dining alone in a restaurant

Experiment example--Barry Manilow t shirt

Related to regret
– We regret more about what we didn’t do than what we did
– Rumination
– Fearful of how others would have judged us
– For things that we actually did and did poorly, we have ways of forming opinions, so it stands to reason that we have more regret about what we did not do

Clinical Implications
– Exaggerated spotlight effect leads to anxiety, social phobia, paranoia
– One promising form of therapy for socially phobic individuals involves getting them to make more realistic assessments of the scrutiny they are likely to receive from others
– Paranoid tendency: self-as-target bias, the exaggerated perception the extent to which other's behavior is directed at them


Illusion of Transparency

Belief that thoughts, feelings, and emotions are more apparent to others than is actually the case

People may not only overestimate the extent to which others take note of them (spotlight effect), but also exaggerate the extent to which others can detect internal sensations

*Illusion of transparency can lead to problems at home and the office as people think they have communicated better than they have, so the unresponsiveness of others is attributed to in sensitivity or lack of concern

*wife is made further upset because the husband doesn’t recognize her sadness
*a speaker believes people in the audience can pick up on his nerves – ironically serves to make the speaker all the more nervous, increasing the cycle in which the speaker then believes the newly elevated anxiety is apparent leading to more anxiety etc. – – "self-exacerbating syndrome"
*manager overestimate degree to which they communicated their pleasure displeasure to their subordinates and may believe they've stated their expectations more clearly than is actually the case

*social anxiety is often characterized by profound concern that ones privately experience distress is readily observable to others

Communication is best prevention


Self-serving Bias

Tendency to distort attributions made for our own behavior in ways to make us look better and protect or enhance our self-esteem

Positive outcomes, successes = we take credit – stable, internal attributions

Negative outcomes, failures = attribute responsibility to situation, external

Commonly seen with politicians and students

Possibly motivated by supplying explanation for our failures

Who doesn’t engage in this bias?
• Collectivist cultures, depressed people, those with low self-esteem

Taking credit vs denying responsibility – the two methods of engaging in this bias
• We often take credit, even for negative outcomes, because if we always deny responsibility, we cannot take credit for our successes
o E.g. Companies that attribute yearly errors to controllable, internal events, tend to have increased stocks the following year due to the belief that they can control for these errors and problem-solve



Strategically establishing an obstacle to success prior to a performance situation to control attributions about the outcome. Two types:
Behavioral version (e.g drinking the night before a test)
Claim version (e.g. claiming a headache before a test)

• Protects against the negative consequences of failure
• Can discount ability attributions if we fail
• Augmented ability attributions if we succeed
• Takes pressure off, reduces stress of failure, may helps maintain intrinsic motivation

*Provides an excuse not to motivate oneself – self-fulfilling effect
*Decreased performance– behavior actually affects performance
*Social cost – claim often, lower estimation by others
* Performance may be evaluated lower – negative frame has been said in the minds of those judging

Gender differences
*Males find self-handicapping more acceptable, and tend to engage in it more than females do

*Women tend not to engage in behavioral self-handicapping
Also, women are more upset with self-handicapping and less sympathetic toward self-handicappers