Attribution Error: A Review of Theory and Research

Attribution error is a cognitive bias that affects how people perceive and judge the behaviors of others. It occurs when an individual ascribes an outcome or behavior to an external cause rather than to internal factors. Attribution error has been studied extensively in the social psychology literature, and this review provides an overview of the key findings and theories related to this phenomenon.

The fundamental attribution error (FAE) is the most well-known form of attribution error. It occurs when an individual attributes a behavior to a person’s internal dispositions or character, rather than to external factors such as the situation or context in which the behavior occurred. For instance, a person might see someone behaving rudely and assume that the person is simply an unpleasant person, rather than considering the possibility that the person is having a bad day.

The FAE is closely related to the actor-observer bias, which describes an individual’s tendency to attribute their own behavior to external factors and the behavior of others to internal factors. This bias explains why people tend to blame others for their failures and take credit for their successes.

Moreover, there is evidence that people are more likely to make an attribution error when they are under stress or feeling threatened. This phenomenon, known as the “hostile attribution bias,” has been studied in the context of bullying behavior and aggression. It suggests that people are prone to perceiving hostile intentions in others when they feel threatened, which can lead to misattributions and conflict.

In addition to the FAE and the actor-observer bias, there are other forms of attribution error that have been studied. For instance, the “ultimate attribution error” occurs when an individual attributes negative behaviors to an entire group, rather than to individuals within the group. This type of attribution error is closely related to prejudice and discrimination.

Finally, the “self-serving bias” is another type of attribution error that has been studied. This bias occurs when an individual attributes their successes to internal factors and their failures to external factors. This type of attribution error can lead to an unrealistic view of one’s own abilities and can impair self-improvement.

In conclusion, attribution error is a cognitive bias that affects how people perceive and judge the behaviors of others. It is closely related to the fundamental attribution error, the actor-observer bias, the hostile attribution bias, the ultimate attribution error, and the self-serving bias. Further research is needed to understand the causes and consequences of attribution error in different contexts.


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