Attribution Error

In life, you sometimes encounter people with “high standards”—folks who often find others’ behavior lacking in some way. Such people usually explain: “Sure, I have high standards… but I hold myself to an even higher standard!”

Except… they rarely do.

The problem is that, as humans, we’re subject to both fundamental attribution error and actor-observer bias. These phenomenon mean that we attribute our own good behaviors as intrinsic demonstrations of our good character, and we explain away bad behaviors as a temporary consequence of a given situation. When observing others, however, we tend to do the opposite—good behavior is dismissed as situational and bad behavior is deemed evidence of poor character.

These errors are made every day, at the small scale of our personal relationships to the global stage of policy-making. They’re hard to avoid, especially if you’re not consciously aware of them and don’t actively strive to consider events from different perspective.

Attribution Error

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