For the past few days, I've been processing a psychological principle which I first learned about in college. Unfortunately, there is only so much information you can take in before you reach satiation, consequentially one forgets things from college. Recently in traffic, I experienced an incident that reminded me of this psychological phenomenon, for which we are all guilty; so I'd like to take this moment to highlight it and explain ways to overcome it. This principle is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error. The Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) [copied from Wikipedia] "In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error (also known as correspondence bias or attribution effect) describes the tendency to over-value dispositions or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors. The fundamental attribution error is most visible when people explain the behavior of others. It does not explain interpretations of one's own behaviorwhere situational factors are often taken into consideration. This discrepancy is called the actorobserver bias." WTF does that mean? In short: The FAE is an erroneous conclusion people make about others' personalities based on their behavior in certain situations. Example: "She tripped on the stairs, she must be stupid." Example: "Hey, that guy swerved in front of me in traffic, therefore I know he is an asshole." The FAE is declared an "error" because we as humans make this assumption as an accusation to the individual rather than the situation. However, if "tables were turned" and the same situation happens to us personally, we attribute our behavior to the situation rather than ourselves innately. How do we allow this to happen? There are 3 primary reasons we commit the FAE, I will try and use simplified terms because I know this might seem complex or verbose. 1: "Karma/ Religion" For those of us who believe in Karma, or any other supernatural forces of right/wrong, we will acknowledge various situations, then assume a person is good/bad based simply on those events that happened to them. This is particularly true when we feel inclined to blame the victim. To explain an example: When we see someone get injured, often we might conclude they're a bad person as if to say we are conscious that "the Universe" knows they're a bad person and is imposing justice onto them. I'm not here to make any statements for or against religiosity, but consider Pastor John Hagee's belief as an example: "I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area, that was not carried nationally, that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came." To some, this notion might seem silly. But how many of us have made such a conclusion? We may not think as extremely as Pastor Hagee, probably because we acknowledge that Nature and such situations happen out of their own accord. Fortunately, this is why the FAE is still understood to be an error; we have the knowledge to overcome this conclusion. This is true when we accept that people as a whole are innately good. 2: "Overlooking the Circumstances" This point will feel like a reiteration of the primary definition. This point occurs when we make the conscious decision to ignore situational factors acting upon people and instead we focus on the individuals themselves as the only resource for their behavior. Once again, I will use the example earlier of someone who suddenly swerves in traffic. We understand the rules of the road. We understand the etiquette involved with driving. Also, in most cases, we cannot see most other drivers. Therefore when someone acts out-of-line to these rules, we will make a snap judgement about them. However, point #2 here states that we will ignore that the individual might be lost, injured, or late; but rather assume then conclude they are instead stupid, rude, or cruel. Those of us who commit this might need to reconsider forgiveness. 3: "Lazy/ Overwhelmed" OK, so now you've been educated on 2 of the causes of the FAE so far. Let's just say you have made the decision to change for the better. So you walk out the door and head to the Mall. You get in the car, and "some girl" cuts you off at the first stoplight! Instead of considering her to be a bitch, you allow her to be a kind person and simply tell yourself she was being inattentive. It was an unfortunate situation, but at least now you know she's not innately a bitch but rather was having a bad moment. Congrats, you just managed to overcome feelings of the FAE. Now you're in traffic on I-95. Look at all those people around you in traffic; some of them are swerving! Look at all those people in the mall parking lot; someone just took 'your' parking spot! Look at all those people in the mall; someone is talking so loud on their cell. Point #3 is about the fact that there are too many situations that exist for us to monitor each one. We either become overwhelmed or once again lazily revert to our formerly presumptuous self. This merely becomes an excuse, the FAE can indeed become diminished once we are aware of our faults. The occasional reminder might be necessary and that's OK. We all make mistakes. In conclusion, the Fundamental Attribution Error is, as its name implies, an error. It is a mistake we make simply because we are human. But we as people have the knowledge to embrace this error and reduce our personal habits of criticism. If you must judge someone, at least give them the benefit of the doubt. Start with discernment, then with forgiveness, and finally with love. Consider Jane Goodall's words as you go: "The greatest danger to our future is apathy."