Attributions and the Correspondence Bias in Psychology: Definition & Dispositions vs. Situational Behavior

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  • 0:05 Attributions
  • 1:34 Correspondence Bias
  • 3:05 Actor-Observer Difference
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

How do we explain other people's behavior? In this lesson, we'll learn about the types of attributions that we use to explain behavior, as well as two biases that are common when we're looking at other people's behaviors.


Cindy and Rob work together. They see each other every day and generally get along well. But one morning, Rob is very short with Cindy and says something rude and impatient. Cindy thinks that he must be having a bad day. Jessie is new to the company, and when she first meets Rob, he's pretty gruff. So, Jessie thinks to herself that Rob must be a pretty mean guy.

Two people, the same situation, and yet Cindy and Jessie come up with completely different reasons for Rob's behavior. In psychology terms, Cindy and Jessie assigned different attributions to Rob. An attribution is the reason a person gives for why an event happened.

When we look at other people's behaviors, there are two main types of attributions: situational and dispositional. Situational attributions basically say that a person's actions are due to the situation that they are in. Cindy makes a situational attribution for Rob's bad mood; she believes that he's having a bad day. The situation that he's in is a bad day, and that's the reason for his bad mood.

Dispositional attributions, on the other hand, say that a person's actions are due to their disposition, or personality. Jessie believes that Rob is acting rude because he's a mean guy, so she's making a dispositional attribution.

Correspondence Bias

One common mistake that people make when making attributions for other people's behavior is called the correspondence bias, or the fundamental attribution error. This is the phenomenon that says that people make more dispositional attributions for others' behaviors. In other words, when we see people act a certain way, we tend to assume their behavior is indicative of their personality, not due to the situation they are in.

For example, Johnny is standing in line when Joey cuts in front of him. Johnny yells at Joey and the men begin to argue. If asked, both Johnny and Joey are most likely to give a dispositional reason for the other person's behavior. Johnny will say that Joey is rude and a perpetual line-cutter, and Joey will say that Johnny is a hotheaded guy. Neither will take into consideration situational reasons for the other person's behavior - say, that Joey is in a hurry because his kid is sick or that Johnny just got yelled at by his boss.

Knowing a person well helps avoid the correspondence bias. Think back to the example of Rob's behavior. Why did Jessie assume Rob was a mean person, while Cindy assumed that he was having a bad day? Because Cindy knew Rob and knew that his behavior was not normal for him, she looked around for a situational cue for his bad mood. Since Jessie didn't know Rob well and had no other behavior to compare to, she assumed Rob was like that all the time and made a dispositional attribution.

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