Fundamental attribution error

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The phrase was coined by Lee Ross.

Explanation of the behavior of humans always requires reference to the situation the person is in. The failure to do so sufficiently is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error.

In actual fact, when large numbers of people are observed in a wide range of situations, the correlation for trait-related behavior runs about .20 or less. People think the correlation is around .80. In reality, seeing Carlos behave more honestly than Bill in a given situation increases the likelihood that he will behave more honestly in another situation from the chance level of 50 percent to the vicinity of 55-57. People think that if Carlos behaves more honestly than Bill in one situation the likelihood that he will behave more honestly than Bill in another situation is 80 percent!

Our susceptibility to the fundamental attribution error—overestimating the role of traits and underestimating the importance of situations—has implications for everything from how to select employees to how to teach moral behavior.

Richard Nisbett - EDGE - 2017

See Bayes Theorem