Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Weddings - Symbols and Messages

When I got married, I spent my wedding days in a daze. My parents, my in-laws, the officiating priest gave me instructions and I blindly followed them. This is normal . During an Indian wedding there are a huge variety of rituals to be carried out. They vary based on the region you come from, the sect you belong to, and traditions followed in your family. In my opinion, they all have one thing in common, the bride and groom are totally disconnected from the entire spectacle that is playing out around them. Now my son Prahalad is getting married to Sneha and I will watch them go through an identical experience. So I started wondering how I could help them make sense of the crazy few days they are going to experience. I have a wonderful idea Me, I am an engineer and so I had this wonderful idea. Compare the wedding ceremony to F=ma. That is Newton's Second Law of Motion. If you understand the symbols and what they stand for, then it is a very useful and powerful equation. If y

Accepting Your Wife in Marriage

I read a change management book a while back. It said that all changes follow identical phases. How long you spend in each phase may vary, but you will go through all the phases. The phases are inevitable. “Changes” are anything new - a new job, a new house, a new hobby, a new spouse, or a new way of doing things. When you initiated the change you did it because you felt the change would be for the better. Initially there is a honeymoon phase, you see all the nice things about the change. You are excited and happy. After a while you start noticing the drawbacks, the negative aspects of the change. You enter the disillusionment phase. You are upset and angry, you feel cheated. At this point three things can happen. Breakdown. You abandon the change, and go back to the old ways. You try to get another job, another house, abandon your hobby, or divorce your spouse. Trapped. You are unhappy but grit your teeth and go on. You feel trapped, stressed out. You continue in the

Giving up Tennis

In my previous post I was discussed how most people treat their marriage as a Tennis game. In Relationship Tennis you are trying to dominate your spouse and get them to behave as per your concept of the perfect spouse. If you are uncomfortable or unhappy in your relationship with your spouse, the first and most important step is to stop playing Relationship Tennis. Not easy. This post is about how you can stop playing Relationship Tennis. As I discussed in depth in my post Accepting your Wife in Marriage I decided that I want to improve my relationship with Vandana. When I talked to her about it, she thought it was one more strategy I was using in my Relationship Tennis. When I asked her what would convince her that I was serious, she threw me a challenge. The challenge was very simple, she said, "You never make the bed, for the next one year make the bed everyday and I might be willing to believe you." So the first step on the journey was that for one year I made the