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fundamental attribution error


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A pervasive tendency to underestimate the importance of external situational pressures and to overestimate the importance of internal motives and dispositions in interpreting the behaviour of others. In a typical experiment, participants filled in questionnaires indicating their attitudes towards the Cuban leader Fidel Castro and towards the legalization of cannabis, then half of them were instructed to write essays in favour of Castro and the rest to write essays in favour of legalizing cannabis. The pro-Castro essays were then shown to the writers of the pro-cannabis essays and vice versa, and the readers estimated the writers' true attitudes towards the issues discussed in their essays. Although the readers knew the constraints under which the essays had been written, they failed to take these external situational factors sufficiently into account and persistently misjudged the writers' attitudes in the direction of the views expressed in the essays. The phenomenon was first identified in 1929 in an article in the journal Zeitschrift für angewandte Psychologie by the Polish-born Austrian psychologist Gustav Ichheiser (1897–1969) and was subsequently observed and described in 1944 by the Austrian-born US psychologist Fritz Heider (1896–1988), and in 1965 by the US psychologist Edward Ellsworth Jones (1926–93), who called it correspondent inference, but it was not until 1977 that it was named and given prominence by the Canadian psychologist Lee D(avid) Ross (born 1942), to whom it is often (mis)attributed. Ross later came to believe that it could more aptly be called the dispositionist bias, and many other social psychologists call it the overattribution bias. Cross-cultural research suggests that it is far less pervasive in more collectivist (less individualist) cultures than in the US and northern Europe. See also attribution, attributional bias, attribution theory, Kelley's cube.

Subjects: Psychology.


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