Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fundamental attribution error

Fundamental attribution error is a phenomenon in social psychology that describes a tendency in us to explain the behavior of others in terms of their personal qualities rather than circumstance. We "attribute" a person's actions to his persona rather than the immediate situation or social context.

I think this is quite a natural tendency. It is a bit like the energy minimum principle, we are always looking for simple explanations to complex issues. Much easier labeling others lazy or stupid rather than spending energy investigating the circumstances they are operating from.

And by the way, this door swings both ways. Other people are likely to think we are incompetent or not caring rather than bothering to consider that perhaps we are overworked, or having the worst hangover of our lives.

So the next time you are aggravated by your compatriots give them the benefit of the doubt. You might be missing something from the big picture that makes their (in)actions perfectly justified.

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