Fundamental Attribution Error/Correspondence Bias
- LAST REVIEWED: 18 October 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0114
- LAST REVIEWED: 18 October 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0114
The fundamental attribution error (FAE) suggests that social perceivers attribute other people’s behavior primarily to dispositional causes, rather than to situational causes. For instance, if a college professor explained a student’s exam failures as due to something about the student’s character or intelligence—rather than lack of study opportunity or poor teaching—the professor might be seen as committing the fundamental attribution error. In part, the popularity of the FAE is due to its uniquely social psychological message: ordinary people typically underestimate the importance of social situations. For example, people typically express surprise that people will follow an experimenter’s orders to deliver potentially lethal shocks to an innocent person (Milgram 1963, cited under Background References). To the extent that perceivers fail to appreciate the power of the experimenter’s orders, they fall prey to the FAE. The correspondence bias (CB) is a related tendency to draw correspondent trait inferences from situationally constrained behavior. For example, many studies have exposed research participants to a speech supporting a given topic that was created in response to an authority figure’s directions (e.g., a debate coach who requested a pro-marijuana speech). Despite the obvious situational constraints, perceivers still tend to infer that the speaker holds a personal attitude corresponding to the speech (e.g., a pro-marijuana attitude). Although some writers treat the FAE and CB as more or less equivalent, others stress differences. One difference occurs in the dependent variable. The FAE is typically assessed by questions about abstract, global attributions to dispositional versus situational causes (Was this behavior caused by the person or the situation?), whereas CB is typically assessed by specific attitude ratings (e.g., Does this person hold a pro-marijuana attitude?). Although highly influential, both the FAE and the CB have been engulfed in controversy. Some researchers believe that perceivers are sophisticated enough to recognize that both dispositions and situations typically contribute to behavior. Others question whether the word “fundamental” is appropriate, or they question the very existence of such a bias. Relative to the FAE, evidence in support of CB has held up better through the years, although a number of moderators have been identified.
Perhaps the best introduction to the fundamental attribution error/correspondence bias (FAE/CB) can be found in the writings of the two theorists who first introduced the concepts. Jones 1979 coined the term CB and provided a summary of early research that aimed to rule out artifactual explanations of the bias. Ross 1977 introduced the FAE as an enduring concept with strong roots in the basic approach of social psychology. Ross and Nisbett 1991 extended this line of thinking. If the reader were restricted to reading just one authoritative source, however, the best choice would be Gilbert and Malone 1995, a highly accessible and much-cited review of the FAE/CB. Readers interested in neuroscience as it relates to FAE/CB might wish to consult Lieberman, et al. 2002. Gawronski 2004 presents a more critical perspective on FAE/CB, suggesting that perceivers engage in quite sophisticated thinking when making dispositional inferences. The theme of greater complexity in person perception is also present in McClure 1998, which suggests perceivers often believe that multiple causes contribute to behavior. Reeder 2009 echoes this theme, proposing that when perceivers attribute traits, they attempt to understand the mental states (e.g., intentions and motives) of others.
Gawronski, B. 2004. Theory-based bias correction in dispositional inference: The fundamental attribution error is dead, long live the correspondence bias. European Review of Social Psychology 15.1: 183–217.
Comprehensive review that sees CB as due to the implicit causal theories (expectations) perceivers hold. These implicit theories describe the conditions under which situations have an impact on behavior. In general, CB is not caused by the FAE, which is the failure to recognize the power of situational forces.
Gilbert, D. T., and P. S. Malone. 1995. The correspondence bias. Psychological Bulletin 117.1: 21–38.
Provides a broad and theoretical overview of CB. It traces the historical roots of CB and proposes that four mechanisms underlie the bias: lack of awareness of situations, unrealistic expectations about behavior in specific situations, inflated behavioral categorizations due to situational forces, and the tendency for perceivers to undercorrect their dispositional inferences for situational forces.
Jones, E. E. 1979. The rocky road from acts to dispositions. American Psychologist 34.2: 107–117.
Summarizes early work on CB, most of which was conducted by Jones and his students. The article examines several alternative explanations for the findings and finally settles on an anchoring/adjustment heuristic (see Tversky and Kahneman 1974, cited under Background References) as the best of these.
Lieberman, M. D., R. Gaunt, D. T. Gilbert, and Y. Trope. 2002. Reflexion and reflection: A social cognitive neuroscience approach to attributional inference. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 34:199–249.
Offers an account of CB in terms of neuroscience. Relatively automatic processes operate as a reflexive process, and controlled processes operate as a reflection process.
McClure, J. 1998. Discounting causes of behavior: Are two reasons better than one? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74.1: 7–20.
Early attributional theorizing assumed that causes (e.g., dispositional versus situational) were negatively correlated. This article reviews evidence that perceivers may see multiple causes of behavior that are independent or even positively correlated.
Reeder, G. D. 2009. Mindreading: Judgments about intentionality and motives in dispositional inference. Psychological Inquiry 20:1–18.
Portrays a sophisticated social perceiver who takes account of the mental states of others. The focus is on perceptions of intentionality and motive, which, in turn, play an important role in inferences of attitudes, morality, and ability.
Ross, L. 1977. The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process. In Advances in experimental social psychology. Vol. 10. Edited by L. Berkowitz, 173–220. New York: Academic Press.
Introduced the controversial term “fundamental attribution error,” defined as a general tendency to overestimate the importance of dispositional factors relative to situational influences. The error may lead people to draw dispositional inferences for behavior that is actually controlled more by situational forces, and to overestimate the consistency of behavior.
Ross, L., and R. E. Nisbett. 1991. The person and the situation: Perspectives of social psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.
A sophisticated view of personality as it manifests itself across different social contexts. Reviews the powerful impact of situational factors on social behavior, while emphasizing that perceivers are often unaware of this impact and instead rely on the FAE. Perceivers are seen as paying more attention to behavior than situations.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Abnormal Psychology
- Action Research
- Addictive Behavior
- Affective Forecasting
- Allport, Gordon
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Animal Behavior
- Animal Learning
- Anxiety Disorders
- Art and Aesthetics, Psychology of
- Attachment in Social and Emotional Development across the ...
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) In Adults
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Childre...
- Attraction in Close Relationships
- Attribution Theory
- Authoritarian Personality
- Behavior Therapy, Rational Emotive
- Behavioral Economics
- Behavioral Genetics
- Bereavement and Grief
- Biological Psychology
- Birth Order
- Body Image in Men and Women
- Bystander Effect
- Clinical Neuropsychology
- Clinical Psychology
- Cognitive Consistency Theories
- Cognitive Dissonance Theory
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Communication, Nonverbal Cues and
- Comparative Psychology
- Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience
- Coping Processes
- Counseling Psychology
- Critical Thinking
- Cross-Cultural Psychology
- Cultural Psychology
- Death and Dying
- Deceiving and Detecting Deceit
- Defensive Processes
- Depressive Disorders
- Development, Prenatal
- Developmental Psychology (Cognitive)
- Developmental Psychology (Social)
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM...
- Dissociative Disorders
- Drugs and Behavior
- Eating Disorders
- Ecological Psychology
- Educational Settings, Assessment of Thinking in
- Embodiment and Embodied Cognition
- Emerging Adulthood
- Emotional Intelligence
- Environmental Neuroscience and Environmental Psychology
- Ethics in Psychological Practice
- Evolutionary Psychology
- Exploratory Data Analysis
- Eyewitness Testimony
- Factor Analysis
- Festinger, Leon
- Five-Factor Model of Personality
- Flynn Effect, The
- Friendships, Children's
- Fundamental Attribution Error/Correspondence Bias
- Gambler's Fallacy
- Game Theory and Psychology
- Health Psychology
- Heuristics and Biases
- History of Psychology
- Human Factors
- Implicit Association Test (IAT)
- Industrial and Organizational Psychology
- Intercultural Psychology
- Intergroup Conflict
- International Classification of Diseases and Related Healt...
- International Psychology
- Interviewing in Forensic Settings
- Intimate Partner Violence, Psychological Perspectives on
- Item Response Theory
- Law, Psychology and
- Learned Helplessness
- Learning versus Performance
- LGBTQ+ Romantic Relationships
- Lie Detection in a Forensic Context
- Life-Span Development
- Locus of Control
- Meaning in Life
- Mechanisms and Processes of Peer Contagion
- Media Violence, Psychological Perspectives on
- Memories, Autobiographical
- Memories, Flashbulb
- Memories, Repressed and Recovered
- Memory, Human
- Memory, Implicit versus Explicit
- Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)
- Moral Development
- Moral Psychology
- Moral Reasoning
- Neuroscience of Associative Learning
- Obsessive-Complusive Disorder (OCD)
- Operant Conditioning
- Optimism and Pessimism
- Organizational Justice
- Parenting Stress
- Path Models
- Peace Psychology
- Perception, Person
- Personality Disorders
- Personality Psychology
- Placebo Effects in Psychology
- Positive Psychology
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Prejudice and Stereotyping
- Prisoner's Dilemma
- Prosocial Behavior
- Prosocial Spending and Well-Being
- Psychology, Political
- Psychophysics, Visual
- Psychotic Disorders
- Reasoning, Counterfactual
- Rehabilitation Psychology
- Religion, Psychology and
- Research Methods
- Risk Taking
- Schizophrenic Disorders
- School Psychology
- Self, Gender and
- Self, Psychology of the
- Self-Regulation in Educational Settings
- Sensation Seeking
- Sex and Gender
- Sexual Minority Parenting
- Sexual Orientation
- Single People
- Skinner, B.F.
- Sleep and Dreaming
- Small Groups
- Social Class and Social Status
- Social Cognition
- Social Neuroscience
- Social Support
- Social Touch and Massage Therapy Research
- Somatoform Disorders
- Sports Psychology
- Stereotype Threat
- Stress and Coping, Psychology of
- Subjective Wellbeing Homeostasis
- Teaching of Psychology
- Terror Management Theory
- Testing and Assessment
- Theory of Mind
- Therapies, Person-Centered
- Therapy, Cognitive-Behavioral
- Thinking Skills in Educational Settings
- Time Perception
- Trait Perspective
- Twin Studies
- Type A Behavior Pattern (Coronary Prone Personality)
- Women and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM...
- Women, Psychology of