Fundamental Attribution Error

1 January 2017

The fundamental attribution error is when a person overestimates the influence of another person’s personality over a remark or behavior rather than giving credit to the influence the situation may have on the person. A famous experiment demonstrating this “error” was conducted by David Napolitan and George Goethals. In this experiment, they instructed a woman to act either rude and critical, or warm and friendly to each person individually. Half of the group was told that the woman would be acting spontaneously, and the other half was let in on the experiment.

The result was that the assumptions about her personality did not change even though half the group had known that she was an actor. Each group assumed that because the woman behaved coldly, her personality was so. Even the group who was told that her behavior was situational had still believed that she was warm and friendly because of the way she was acting in the situation. Many times, we find that we commit this error. If we simply looked at a situation from the other person’s point of view, perhaps they were having a bad day; we would then understand their behavior and perhaps even become sympathetic toward them.

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This relates to me because I tend to make this error a lot throughout the day. Many times, however, it has to do with my situation as well. For example, if I am having a bad day, it makes me harder to sympathize and/or understand when someone else is having a bad day. It’s like I don’t see it. Their bad attitude is just like another notch of bad onto the belt of bad day: another thing that went wrong. However, if I stop to think about why this person is so snappy, I might be able to see that it is not just the type of person that they are, but it is perhaps the situation that they were put in.

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Fundamental Attribution Error. (2017, Jan 04). Retrieved March 22, 2019, from
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