Login

Fundamental Attribution Error: Definition & Overview

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Proprioception: Definition & Exercises

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Attribution Theory and…
  • 1:16 Explaining Our Own Behavior
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Manuela Heberle

Manuela has master's degree in counseling. As an adjunct faculty member at Park University, Manuela has taught psychology, social psychology, and a tests and measurements course. In addition to being a Student Success and Retention Coordinator at New Mexico State University in Alamogodo, she also taught psychology and student success courses. nts course. Her experience with New Mexico State University includes teaching psychology and student success courses, as well as working as a Student Success and Retention Coordinator.

This lesson covers the fundamental attribution error. You might be surprised to find out that your explanation of why people do what they do is more often inaccurate than it is accurate.

Attribution Theory and the Fundamental Attribution Error

Attribution theory states that we have a tendency to explain someone's behavior by attributing a cause to his/her behavior. In our effort to try to understand the behavior of others, we either explain their behavior in terms of their personality and disposition (internal), or we explain their behavior in terms of the situation (external). You might, for example, explain your professor's harsh words about class performance as being the result of his angry personality type, or you might attribute it to his disappointment with the overall class performance. If you attribute his harsh words to the angry personality type, then you have made the fundamental attribution error.

The fundamental attribution error is our tendency to explain someone's behavior based on internal factors, such as personality or disposition, and to underestimate the influence that external factors, such as situational influences, have on another person's behavior. We might, for example, explain the fact that someone is unemployed based on his character, and blame him for his plight, when in fact he was recently laid off due to a sluggish economy. Of course, there are times when we're correct about our assumptions, but the fundamental attribution error is our tendency to explain the behavior of others based on character or disposition. This is particularly true when the behavior is negative.

Explaining Our Own Behavior

When it comes to explaining our own behavior, we're more likely to do just the opposite. In other words, we have a tendency to explain our own behavior in terms of external, situational influences. Why? One reason is that we are familiar with our circumstances. If we are laid off from our job and become homeless, we know that the poverty we find ourselves in is not the result our character, but the result of our circumstance. When we see another person homeless, we see only the end result, and we make an assumption about what led to it.

Another reason for the tendency to explain our own behavior based on situational influences is that we fall prey to the self-serving bias. No one likes to see themselves as having negative character traits or dispositions. Have you ever met anyone who shared with you that they view themselves as unintelligent, ignorant, mean, selfish, or bad? We strive to see ourselves in a favorable light, and as a result we explain away anything that threatens the positive picture we have created for ourselves about ourselves.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?
I am a teacher

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 95 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
Support