Fundamental Attribution Error/Correspondence Bias

Glenn D. Reeder

in Psychology

ISBN: 9780199828340
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:
Fundamental Attribution Error/Correspondence Bias

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
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  • Educational Psychology
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The fundamental attribution error (FAE) suggests that social perceivers attribute other people’s behavior primarily to dispositional causes, rather than to situational causes. For instance, if a college professor explained a student’s exam failures as due to something about the student’s character or intelligence—rather than lack of study opportunity or poor teaching—the professor might be seen as committing the fundamental attribution error. In part, the popularity of the FAE is due to its uniquely social psychological message: ordinary people typically underestimate the importance of social situations. For example, people typically express surprise that people will follow an experimenter’s orders to deliver potentially lethal shocks to an innocent person (Milgram 1963, cited under Background References). To the extent that perceivers fail to appreciate the power of the experimenter’s orders, they fall prey to the FAE. The correspondence bias (CB) is a related tendency to draw correspondent trait inferences from situationally constrained behavior. For example, many studies have exposed research participants to a speech supporting a given topic that was created in response to an authority figure’s directions (e.g., a debate coach who requested a pro-marijuana speech). Despite the obvious situational constraints, perceivers still tend to infer that the speaker holds a personal attitude corresponding to the speech (e.g., a pro-marijuana attitude). Although some writers treat the FAE and CB as more or less equivalent, others stress differences. One difference occurs in the dependent variable. The FAE is typically assessed by questions about abstract, global attributions to dispositional versus situational causes (Was this behavior caused by the person or the situation?), whereas CB is typically assessed by specific attitude ratings (e.g., Does this person hold a pro-marijuana attitude?). Although highly influential, both the FAE and the CB have been engulfed in controversy. Some researchers believe that perceivers are sophisticated enough to recognize that both dispositions and situations typically contribute to behavior. Others question whether the word “fundamental” is appropriate, or they question the very existence of such a bias. Relative to the FAE, evidence in support of CB has held up better through the years, although a number of moderators have been identified.

Article.  11309 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology ; Developmental Psychology ; Health Psychology ; History and Systems in Psychology ; Educational Psychology ; Social Psychology

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