The Fundamental Attribution Error
(reading time – 1 min.)
The Fundamental Attribution Error is similar to the Self-Serving Bias, in that we look for contextual excuses for our failures, but generally blame other people or their characteristics for their failures. It also may stem from the Availability Heuristic in that we make judgments based only on the information we have available at hand.
One of the best textbook examples of this integrates stereotyping: Imagine you are driving behind another car. The other driver is swerving a bit and unpredictably starts speeding up and slowing down. You decide to overtake them (so as to no longer be stuck behind such a dangerous driver) and as you look over, you see a female behind the wheel. The Fundamental Attribution Error kicks in when you make the judgment that their driving is poor because they’re a woman (also tying on to an unfounded stereotype). But what you probably don’t know is that the other driver has three children yelling and goofing around in the backseat, while she’s trying to get one to soccer, one to dance and the other to a piano lesson. She’s had a particularly tough day and now she’s running late with all of the kids because she couldn’t leave work at the normal time. If we were that driver, we’d judge ourselves as driving poorly because of these reasons, not because of who we are.