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Fundamental Attribution Error: Why You Make Terrible Life Choices
There I was, sitting in a packed movie theatre. I waited two years for this sequel and I’ve got enough popcorn and diet soda to last me a full three hours. Fifteen minutes into the movie, the hero and villain are facing off for the first time when a lady bursts into the theater. Trying to find a seat, she awkwardly tries to squeeze into the middle of the row in front of me blocking the best part of the movie. “What a rude and inconsiderate person!” I think to myself as I dodge her body when she scuffles by.

A week later I’m rushing to catch another film with my friends. It’s pouring rain and traffic is crazy. I hope I make it before the previews end but when I reach the theater (soaking wet I might add), the movie has already begun. I have to turn on the flashlight on my phone to find my seat and accidentally step on a few moviegoers’ toes. I hear tuts and loud sighs. It’s clear these people think I’m a complete jerk.

“Well, this isn’t my fault! It’s raining and the traffic was insane!” I think to myself as I take my seat. “I’m usually never late.”

The Fundamental Attribution Error Strikes Again

The “fundamental attribution error” is our bias to judge other people differently from how we judge ourselves. It is, according to Dr. Cristina Bicchieri, “the tendency to believe that what people do reflects who they are” — for better and for worse.

The second type of fundamental attribution error occurs when things go well. When we succeed, we tend to believe it is the result of our talent and hard work. That might be true, however, when others succeed, our bias tends to make us think the other person got lucky or was privileged in some way. That college friend who made it big in Hollywood or your pal who now reports to the CEO at a Fortune 500 company, they were just at the right place at the right time, right? 


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