We make so many cognitive errors every day. We also approach our world with cognitive biases. It's not a bad thing, and to be quite frank I am tired of the world telling me that it IS a bad thing. The biases we have allow us to react to our environments and surroundings when we are cognitively (or physically) "tapped out." And let's face it, we all get "tapped out" from time to time...when we can't really handle just one more thing. It is at these times that our biases work in overtime, our stereotypes allow us to navigate life when we otherwise wouldn't be able to. The Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) is one of the most well-known and studied cognitive errors or biases in psychology.
In a nutshell, the FAE says that when it comes to interpreting other people's behaviors, we tend to overestimate the extent to which their behavior is explained by who they are as a person. And we underestimate the extent to which their behavior is explained by the situation. Read that sentence again and think about it for a minute...
So when that mother in Target yells at her kids, we automatically think that she's a bad mom. We don't first try and understand the outside influences or environment around her that would cause her to do that (her children have fought all day , she's had no sleep, and they were getting ready to get hurt).
And when the driver speeds past you, we automatically think about how "bad" or mean of a person he is. We don't first try and understand the outside influences or environment around him that would cause him to do that (his mom is in the hospital).
If you were reading this and nodding your head in agreement, you are not alone. Almost all of us make this mistake. The important thing is what you do with this information. Now that you know about it, maybe think twice before assigning or labeling people about WHO they are as a person and more about WHAT their environment is in the moment. The real funny thing is we also make errors when describing our OWN behaviors. Anyone want to guess what king of error? That is up for discussion next week!