Attribution error

Whether we’re talking about our own behaviours or someone else’s, we’re likely to make assumptions about why they occurred. We often attribute behaviours to something either external or internal to the person.

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An external attribution is when we believe someone’s behaviour is caused by the situation or environment, something external to the individual.

An internal attribution is when we believe the behaviour is the result of a personal characteristic such as incompetence or courage.

An attribution error occurs when you assign the wrong reason to behaviours. People with low self-esteem can regularly attribute negative experiences to their personal flaws, even when it is not true. People with low compassion can overlook conditions such as poverty, health issues, family pressures or addiction and attribute negative behaviour to character flaws.

Here are some examples:

  • You may think that you were just lucky when you won an award, but if I won that same award, you would believe that I must have worked hard to deserve it.
  • You may think you were justified in getting angry, but when I get angry you think I am out of control.
  • If you trip while walking across the office, you might believe the floor was uneven. If I trip on the office floor, you might say I’m clumsy.
  • If you raise your voice in a meeting, you may believe it’s because others have been so frustrating. If someone else raises their voice in a meeting, you believe it’s because they can’t handle pressure.

Step back whenever you witness or experience negative behaviour. Consider both the internal and external factors that may influence or cause them. Questioning your automatic assumptions about both yourself and others can reduce the likelihood of making an attribution error.

Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraMary Ann Baynton

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