Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Fundamental Attribution Error

The Fundamental Attribution Error. Sounds like a Big Bang Theory episode title, doesn't it?

It's actually a psychological term describing how we use internal factors to explain what happens to someone else while we apply external factors to explain the things that happen to us.

Ari Melber covers it in this video. (Here's hoping that the ad preceding the video won't be for a financial institution.)


This is a different world, a whole new ballgame. Let's rein in our assumptions. The last thing we need is to support policies based on judgments that aren't founded in reality and facts.

Take the unemployment thing. I didn't lose my job because I didn't do it well. I lost my job because the organization was tied to construction and we suffered serious revenue losses and my job was eliminated and outsourced. The guy sitting next to me at the Department of Labor the other day didn't lose his job because he didn't do it well. He lost it because the place where he worked doesn't have enough demand to keep four techs employed and he was the last one hired so......

If you lose your job, it's not going to be because you woke up one day and said "Fuck this steady paycheck shit. I want to struggle and live with financial insecurity. I'm going to stop doing my job well." If you lose your job, it's going to be because this economy is getting meaner and leaner and someone has figured out how to keep their business running without you. Should that unfortunate thing happen to you, may anyone you encounter understand that your lack of a job is not your fault. And if they can't then may they have the decency to keep their mouths shut. Or better yet - to help you find your next job.

As Melber says at the end of the video, it's time we call out this lack of compassion and understanding. We need to ask the people who still want to believe that large numbers of Americans don't want to work - would rather struggle to survive than get up each day and go to work - that question: Really? That's your argument?

I dick around with Fundamental Attribution Errors all day long. Sometimes they keep me warmer than the cats curled around my feet. Seriously, the sanctimony I can pull together when presented with something like an episode of 16 and Pregnant or those people with forty-two children. Mind you, I'm not advocating we limit the number of babies a woman can have or the age at which she can have them, but it still doesn't make it right when I indulge in that kind of judgmental thinking.

There's a lot of ignorance (that Put Me in Charge screed, for example) perpetrated on social media, but there's plenty of clever thought, too. One of my favorites is this:

The Fundamental Attribution Error says that if you're not wealthy, it's because you don't work hard enough, didn't choose the right career path, didn't plan well and aren't smart enough. If I'm not wealthy, it's because the government takes all my money in taxes and gives it to lazy, poor people.

What are your fundamental attribution errors?


  1. Your favorite quote makes a lot of sense. I don't get how people could see it any other way. Why would all of these people want to be lazy when so few are being greedy.

  2. Since listing my fundamental attribution certainties would take up much less of your time, I will say Why Is It Easier To Believe That The Browns Suck Rather Than The Sun Rises In The East And Sets In The West?

  3. When I do something well it's because I'm lucky but when I don't do something well it's because I'm dumb.

    Yeah, I'm my own worse enemy I know ;)

  4. I always begin with the axiom that I am the source of my problems.

    Except when I'm not.

    Seriously, I think blaming oneself in the midst of on-going economic malaise can be pathological; listening to other pathological people blame others for the misfortune of losing their jobs in the midst of economic malaise, rather than laughing at them and walking away, doesn't help.

    Buck up, kiddo. We're all with you.

  5. We have an entire industry devoted to spreading that particular F.A.E., Lisa.

    And just about all of our corporate media is in on the scam.

  6. I don't like it when you ask me to think.

  7. When my children have tantrums it's because they're immature and not yet able to put words to their emotions. When I'm having a tantrum it's because I'm overworked and underpaid and the world is out to get me.

  8. Torches, pitchforks and nooses will be handed out at Ye Olde Pub ... after a few tankards, that is.

    Times change and yet some things never change ... ruling classes have been screwing commoners for a long, long time.

  9. There's a very old American saying that would help cut down on this problem:

    "Don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins."

    On the other hand, we occasionally have a lot of fun inventing stories about why the neighbors are so obnoxious.

  10. my fundamental attribution error says: if your not wealthy it's because the bush cheney admin shoveled all your money to their pals. If i'm not wealthy it's because the bush cheney admin shoveled all my money to their pals. u see the error here? a very interesting post. continue

  11. Fantastic.
    Now if we could just get you in office to fix the whole damn mess.

  12. I'm bracing for the onslaught of cities that decide they have had it with OWS & are comfortable bringing in jackbooted thug riot police to let these citizens know that free speech, the right to assemble & state their grievances will NOT be allowed or tolerated.

    One woman editorial writer droned on about all the "garbage & filth" these protesters are generating.
    Oh & there's no garbage & filth within the walls of Wall Street & the Government?

    I don't mind taxes going to pay for OWS camp sites, but I do mind over 60% of the entire budget goes to wars. I do mind that banksters get fat bonuses while they foreclose people's houses.

    Stepping off soapbox now...
    You asked!

  13. Wow. I loved this. I'm going to try and track my fundamental attribution errors. But really, I'd rather look at the errors of others because they're idiots :) How am I doing?


And then you say....

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