August 1, 2016 Team Mint

It’s not you, it’s me

Attribution is the psychosocial process of discerning the causes of things – something we all do every day.

Something great happens to you. Who takes the credit?

Something not so great happens to you. Who do you blame?

 

Fundamental attribution error (FAE) is the intriguing and subjective phenomenon that describes the tendency to overstate attribution internally (i.e. to one’s self) or externally (i.e. to one’s surroundings and/or circumstances), depending on the recipient of the good or bad “event”.

Here’s how FAE works – a 30 second version:

Something good happens to me Something bad happens to me

THE BACK PAT

“I’m amazing! I totally did that! It was ALL ME!! I always knew I had a secret talent for winning raffles!”

THE FLIPPING OF THE BIRD

“That had NOTHING to do with me. That idiot pulled out in front of me!”

Something good happens to someone else Something bad happens to someone else

THE EYE ROLL

“That result was clearly nothing to do with her – she only passed because the Professor fancies her.”

THE RAISED EYEBROW JUDGEMENT + HEAD SHAKE

“All. Their. Fault.”

 

Interestingly, this pattern of credit and blame is observed more in individualistic societies (e.g. the Western world), whereas in more collective cultures FAE occurs less. But is this typical? I don’t know…

Does FAE exist for some people in reverse – let’s call it “Reverse FAE”, or RFAE?

Are any of these familiar?

Something good happens to me Something bad happens to me

THE SELF-DEPRECATING SHRUG

“Well, I can’t take much of the credit. After all, I did have a lot of spare time to cure cancer. No big deal. Anyone could’ve done it…”

THE WALLOW“She didn’t call me baaack… It’s all my fault!”
Something good happens to someone else Something bad happens to someone else
The PEDESTAL ELEVATION“Well, I’m sure Donald Trump has some good policies up his sleeve…”

THE GENEROUS OVERCOMPENSATION

“He only hit that parked car because it was raining…”

 

I propose that the size and type of FAE (or RFAE) can depend on factors such as:

  • Mood and present state – Are we having a good or bad day?
  • Previous experience – Has something similar happened before? and
  • The other person – the “someone else” – Do we know them? Do we like them? Are they a friend, acquaintance or stranger?

I also propose that at times, fundamental attribution error isn’t actually an error, but is an accurate surmise of the situation!

But I could be mistaken…

– Marianne Campbell, Director, Mint Research

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