Oops, I did it again!

Discussion in 'Relationships, Discrimination, and Jealousy' started by jjsjr, Jun 30, 2011.

  1. jjsjr

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    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 behavior—where situational factors are often taken into consideration. This discrepancy is called the actor–observer 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."
     
  2. august86

    august86 Member

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    First I hear about FAE, but I find it quite interesting. (probably because I'm guilty of it so often, haha)
    It's notable however, that sometimes, people really are douchebags, and damn us for giving them the mental/hypothetical benefit of the doubt. :wink:

    I do agree though, that as we stop separating our actions and thoughts from those of others, we'll realise the same.
     
  3. erratic

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    Funny story: When I was in the middle of my psych degree we had a course in which we had to a positive psychology principle to our lives and write an experiential journal about it. I decided to stop myself from using the FAE for two weeks. I'd stop myself whenever I noticed I was using it, and consider the situation using just the facts, and also considering alternative explanations.

    By the end of the two weeks I was so much happier and level-headed that I've been doing it ever since. Rather than getting all worked up over (typically) minor events caused by people I usually don't know, who are influenced by forces I can't do anything about, I just let it go.

    I thought that I might end up with a lot of unreleased frustration, but at the end of the day I actually have much, much less unreleased frustration. After all, 99% of the time the results of whatever incident it is that would have caused me to use the FAE are so minor that, when I consider the incident at the end of the day, there was little reason to get worked up in the first place.
     
  4. EllieP

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    Sweetie, I deal with it on a daily basis, I just didn't know it had a name. I always called it assholism and used it to my advantage. There are men who see a blonde with big boobs and immediately believe I'm an easy lay, dumb as a post or both. It helps when they come right out with it in the beginning of a social or business interaction so I know how to play my hand.
     
  5. jjsjr

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    I can certainly empathize your story. Even yesterday, I went to Walmart (an activity I highly dread) ... but I left feeling so calm and pleasant, now that I consciously made the decision to stop being judgmental. I was doing it so easily, which caused me to catch myself; this is definitely not an easy fix. But after having done the research again to rediscover what the FAE was for my own interests, I've allowed myself to become so much more patient and far less angry/accusatory. If I do find myself with the tendency to call someone a name, I justify it as I understand they were having a "moment of stupidity" rather than blaming them for being stupid as a full individual. This is easily a work in progress many years in the making... I've only just begun!!!
     
  6. erratic

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    #6 erratic, Jul 3, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2011
  7. jjsjr

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    There are just some things that are easier to buy when they have some of the most competitive prices. I still get all my produce from a farm about 15 minutes away. But thanks for that article, I'm glad I wasn't the only one to reach that conclusion. Plus, it's always nice to have reminders. :wink:
     
  8. erratic

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    Sorry, I'm one of those high-on-my-Wal-Mart-soapbox hipster types ;)

    Actually, department stores like that are where I started my FAE experiment. People budding in line, stopping in the middle of aisles, bumping in to me with their carts, etc.

    I don't know about you, but I started noticing trends with the people I could most easily let go of the FAE, probably because I was in psych at the time. Like, it is definitely easier to let go of it when the person involved is hot - which is totally in line with psych research on attractiveness. I remember some boyfriend material budding in front of me in a long, disordered line and I was like "At least I get something to look at for the next few minutes" without missing a beat.
     
  9. helgaleena

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    Wal-marts generally have horrid lighting that gives me a headache after too long. But I still do buy certain things there, and try to cash and dash.

    I have been doing a 42 day affirmation program which addresses this principle. It's turning out to be pretty effective.
     
  10. jjsjr

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    I might not be the most enlightened person, but it makes me sad to see people posting up things on Facebook about the random "douchebag in traffic or grocery store" especially now that I have a better understanding of that thought process.
     
  11. helgaleena

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    Did not mean to make you sad. I tried to stay on topic, in my own fashion...the map is not the territory.
     
  12. jjsjr

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    Oh no... I hope I didn't come off as accusatory, helgaleena. I'm just saying that it makes me sad in general, now that I witness others making the FAE. I'm just commenting about my circle of friends who, on facebook, will make comments complaining about it.

    Of course, I'm not surprised..... I just find it fascinating.
     
  13. D_Suckleberry Hound

    D_Suckleberry Hound New Member

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    aka "don't judge a book by its cover"
     
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