Friday, April 20, 2012

The Fundamental Attribution Error


Sometime back I wrote an post called Accepting Your Wife in Marriage.

There was a critical step mentioned in that post - You "accept" a person warts and all. This is difficult. In the next few posts I will discuss why this is so hard.

Our brain has many quirks. The more I read about these quirks, the more fascinated I became about these quirks. Many of them make it difficult to "accept" anybody.

So let us discuss something fundamental - 
Behavior is driven by
1. Genes
2. The Hormonal balances in the womb. (The Indian practice of protecting women who are expecting a baby from stresses, negative experiences are scientifically valid).

This portion of behavior I call innate.

3. Your experiences during critical phases of your brain development. You "learn" what right behavior is. (This is something I discussed at length in  Accepting Your Wife in Marriage.) 

This portion of your behavior I call ingrained.

4. Social expectations and peer pressure. You behave in certain ways that you don't "want" to behave but social expectations and peer pressure makes you behave in those ways and it becomes a habit. (Maybe it is drug use. Maybe it is casual sex. Maybe it is how you to talk about your spouse to your friends.)

This portion of behavior i call put on

5. Context. If your spouse has had a fight with you in the morning or you are suffering from a hangover, you respond differently to an incident at work, than you would normally. 

This portion of your behavior is circumstantial

So your behavior actually consists of 
innate + ingrained + put on + circumstantial

What psychologists call The Fundamental Attribution Error is that people tend to attribute behavior of "others" to innate or ingrained behavior, but attribute behavior of "self" to put on or circumstantial behavior.

An Example
I assume you have not done much today because you are lazy, not that you lack the right resources or you don't know what to do.
But if I have not done much, it is because I am very tired.

Read these one-liners and see how they reverse the fundamental attribution error to create humor.   

When I don't do it, I am lazy, When my boss does not do it, he is busy,
When I am on a day off sick, I am always sick. When my boss is a day off sick, he must be very ill.

Overcoming the fundamental attribution error is a key factor in having harmonious relationships with family, friends, colleagues.

Of course, there is more to it than that! But it is an important first step.

In the next post I will discuss something that makes this worse.