Definition: The assumption that another person's behavior, especially clumsy, inappropriate, or otherwise undesirable behavior, is the result of a flaw in the personality, rather than in the situation; the tendency to emphasize internal causes and ignore external pressures. The FAE is more common in individualistic cultures than in collectivistic cultures.

Quite Simply...

  • The belief that an unwanted behavior is caused by a flaw in a one's personality instead of by the circumstances of the situation that one was in.
  • Judging someone without first taking into account the legitimate, situational explanations for another's actions.
  • Assuming the person is at fault and not giving blame to the situation the person was in.

Examples of Fundamental Attribution Error

  • If a person speeds by you on the road, you might assume that they are an aggressive, irresponsible driver; however, the driver may have been taking his pregnant wife to the hospital.
  • One assumes a homeless person is lazy and unintelligent since they beg for money at stoplights, when there could be details specific to this person's situation, such as being a veteran or losing one's family, which have caused the homeless person to beg in the streets.
  • When your friend trips, you assume it's because they're clumsy; however, someone purposely stuck their foot out to trip your friend, so it wasn't truly your friend's fault.
  • A girl is seen talking to a boy in the hallway for a considerable amount of time. The group of girls nearby her say that she's a big flirt, when in reality, he was asking her about the math test he missed.
  • If you find out that someone fails a test, you assume that they are unintelligent; however, they were actually absent the previous class and didn't know there was an exam that day.
  • If one sees an 11th grade boy fighting with a 9th grade boy in the hallway, one assumes that the 11th grade boy is an aggressive bully; however, in reality, the 11th grade boy was defending himself against the physical attack of the 9th grade boy.

Additional Resources

See Also...

  • person-situation controversy because it addresses the controversy of whether one's personality or one's situational factors affect one's behavior and explains why some people commit the FAE.