When individuals attempt to evaluate and explain the behaviors of others, they are executing the process of attribution. Essentially, attribution is the process of explaining the behaviors of both ourselves and others around us. However, often we are self-biased in our attributions, and tend to differ in self attributions and others’ attributions. Fundamental Attribution Error describes our innate tendency to determine others’ behaviors as personality-based rather than situationally based. Meaning we overestimate personality’s contribution to the behavior and undervalue situational circumstances.
My personal experience with this concept was rather unpleasant. I had been very ill for about a year and required two surgeries and a rather unpleasant treatment. The surgeries were abdominal and I had a tumors excised. Moving around is important within days of the surgery, to boost the immune system and reduce scar tissue. So, with the help of my visiting mother, I was trying to ‘run’ errands. Walking was painful, I was weak, and on morphine. We tried me holding onto the cart in Walgreens, and I fainted and ended up tearing one of my sutures. So, in our next outing, we determined that I needed to utilize my handicap placard. As I was getting into a motorized cart, a woman in a walking cast insisted that I get out. I would have protested, but another cart was being driven up and I just got into that one. I was too weak to argue. Well, this woman said some rather rude things to me as I did. And, leaving the store, she shouted at me (very loudly, drawing attention of others) how ‘rude I was’ to ‘take those carts away from people who actually need them’.
Apparently, because I had no visible deformities, she thought I was a lazy, inconsiderate kid. She had no consideration for what my illness/injury situation was, and assumed that I was being thoughtless. It probably didn’t help that I was so weak and taken aback by her unbelievable behavior, that I did not really try to correct her. Perhaps if I had lifted my shirt and shouted back ‘did you have a tumor cut out this week too?’, she might have been kinder. However, ultimately, she refused to consider any situational circumstances that would persuade me to use a store’s motorized cart. She made broad assumptions about my personality. It was an upsetting experience with everything else I was dealing with, but a perfect example of the fundamental attribution error. She made a gross error in her attribution assessment of my behavior, and regarded my behavior as entirely due to my personality.