The Fundamental Attribution Error


The Fundamental Attribution Error is the tendency of people to be keen on judging other people’s actions while ignoring situational factors. A good example is a friend skids over an oily surface and falls. You ridicule him for being clumsy, but suddenly you also skid on the surface and fall down. Therefore, you blamed the floor and the person who had left such a mess, which led to the accident. We, therefore, tend to believe that people do evil things because they are evil. In the below information, I will summarize the Fundamental Attribution Error and its impact on humans.

I vividly remember one time when we went hiking on the Himalayas Mountains with my friend during the summer break. We set out on the long trip, but eventually, we arrived at the mountain base to begin our hike. Unfortunately, we were exhausted from the long trip, so we decided to rest and begin ascending the mountain the next day. Early in the morning on the next day, we began our hiking slowly up the mountain. It was a nice adventure and a lot of fun. We decided to take a shorter route to reach the mountain tops faster. Unfortunately, the sun had risen already, and the ice beneath us had started to melt and became loose. As we traversed the mountain’s terrain, the sun’s heat rays became stronger and stronger.

My friend John led the way, and he was tied to me with a safety rope. Suddenly, he lost his footing and fell into a deep crevice, about six feet deep. I was alarmed at his clumsiness and mocked him a lot. Suddenly, I lost my footing and fell into the same crevice he had fallen into. I started blaming the slipperiness of the ice for the fall rather than my lack of concentration. I then realized that I ignored the situational factors that led to John’s fall and was more focused on personal characteristics. This moment of realization hit me hard, and I apologized to John for my actions, and we figured a way to come out of the crevice.

From the above, we can see the problem of Fundamental Attribution error very clearly. There are some reasons as to why we tend to act in this manner. Firstly, Motivation- People always have the motivation to blame others for their actions. Cognitive laziness- Naturally, people tend always to simplify things. Language- Describing the actions and behavior of people is easier than describing situations. Finally, we have a culture whereby Western culture’s cultural beliefs create more emphasis on individual responsibility (Tetlock, 1985, page 229). Human nature always makes us see that we are right in all our doings, but the fundamental attribution error helps prove otherwise.

If I had not fallen into the Crevice alongside John, I would have easily concluded that John was being clumsy and that he deserved that fall. However, my falling into the crevice also removed these thoughts from my mind and diverted them to blaming the slippery surface rather than John. Another prominent theory is that if I was the one who had initially fallen into the crevice, John would have reacted in the same manner that I did. Therefore, the fundamental attribution error is a two way factor. Anyone can be a victim of it at any time and the resulting comments are almost inevitable. In simple terms, this psychological phenomenon explains why we are often quick to harshly judge others but easily let ourselves off the hook after the realization of our unethical behavior.

The fundamental attribution error was realized after deep research by Lee Ross and later experimented by Jones and Harris. After their experiment, they claimed that this was the anchor of social psychology. This is because it was the most common factor in many individuals. Studies carried out across the US indicated that not all Americans had to possess this error but as they grew older, the chances for them expressing this issue became higher and higher. However, the same research revealed that the Hindus would rather blame the situation than the person involved (Maruna and Mann, 2006, page 166). This means that if someone tripped on a stone, Hindu children would blame the placement of the stone for the fall rather than the person’s clumsiness.

Research has shown that this type of error mainly occurs when the affected person is fully aware of what is going on. The only issue is that we fail to understand the occurrences properly and end up blaming other individuals rather than the situation itself. The FAE is a controllable issue that with proper guidance and concentration, we can be able to overcome easily. We should always try our best to understand the situations around us that could impact what happens to us. Being quick to judge is not the advisable option but rather, we should assess all factors around us and make the right decisions about them. In conclusion, FAE should not be allowed to take control of us but rather, we should always have high concentration so that we may fully see what happens around us and acknowledge the situational factors rather than the human ones.


Tetlock, P. E. (1985). Accountability: A social check on the fundamental attribution error. Social psychology quarterly, 227-236.

Maruna, S., & Mann, R. E. (2006). A fundamental attribution error? Rethinking cognitive distortions. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 11(2), 155-177.


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