What is Attribute bias? Let’s know about its theories and types

What is Attribute bias? Let’s know about its theories and types


We often want to know why a person behaves in a certain way as they do. Is it because of personality factors or due to some external factors? Attribution is defined as the process through which we seek information and draw reasons or explanations of other’s behavior. It does not only concern the efforts to understand the causes behind other’s behavior, but on some occasions, we also use it to understand the causes of our behavior. We all do attribution daily without realizing it and sometimes get affected by the biases.

For example, suppose you go to a restaurant and the receptionist greets you with a smile and acts in a friendly manner. We might wonder does she does this because she is a friendly person, or if her job requires her to do this. Hence attribution comes into play. Let’s explore the fascinating topic of attribute bias, which shapes our views.

Also Read: Understanding Our Mental Traps: How Biases Lead to Distorted Thinking

Theories of Attribution

Many social psychologists have given theories to explain how we attribute and make sense of other’s behavior. some of the theories are:

1) Theory of Correspondent Inference:

Jones and Davies through this theory proposed that people attribute most of the behavior of others to internal factors or their personality traits. They also suggest how we infer uncommon behavior as a result of their personality and do not pay attention to or infer anything from the common behavior. To explain this let us take an example, we see a person raise their hand at a child or a pet. We may infer this behavior as their personality, in this case aggressive trait. While when we see a person being gentle with a kid or a pet. We tend to see this noninformative of their personality as it is a common behavior towards children.

2) Kelly’s Covariation Principle:

Kelly’s covariation principle states that in order to attribute others behavior to internal or external factors we look at three major types of information. First, we consider consensus, the extent to which other people react to a given stimulus in the same manner as the person we are evaluating. Second, we consider consistency, the extent to which the person in question reacts to stimulus or event in the same way on other occasions. Next, we consider distinctiveness, which is the extent to which a person reacts in the same manner to another stimulus. We are most likely to attribute the behavior to internal factors if the distinctiveness and consensus are low, but consistency is high, and to external factors when the consensus, consistency and distinctiveness are all high.

Let us take an example to explain this. In a restaurant a server flirts with the customer. Now, does he do this because he has a flirty personality or because the customer is very attractive. The three major types of information we need are as follows, many other servers also flirt with the customer (meaning consensus is high), this server also flirts with the same customer at other times (consistency is high), and he does not flirt with other customers (distinctiveness is high). So, this behavior will be attributed to external factors that the customer is very attractive.

Also Read: Understanding Psychology Behind Fear and Phobias

Types of Attribution Bias

Although we do a decent job, evaluating others behavior. Sometimes we get biased in our opinion explaining others behavior or making certain errors. This is known as attribution bias. Attribution biases can lead us to make false conclusions about why people acted as they did and influence our predictions of how they will act in the future.

Therefore, let us look into some common biases we make in evaluating other’s behavior:

1) Actor Observer Bias:

The tendency to attribute our own behavior because of situational factors and other’s behavior to dispositional or internal causes is called the actor-observer bias. For example, when we see another person trip and fall, we tend to attribute it to their clumsiness, and when we trip and fall, we are more likely to attribute it to situational factors like the floor is slippery. It may occur because we are more aware of the external factors affecting our actions but less aware of the external factors influencing others’ behavior.

2) Fundamental Attribution Error:

Mostly like the actor-observer bias, fundamental attribution error, or correspondence bias is the tendency to explain other actions as corresponding to their traits or dispositions even in the presence of situational factors. For example, suppose you read an essay on a controversial topic, to get an idea where the writer stands on a particular issue. But then you realize that the writer was supposed to draft the essay in support of the issue. From a very rational perspective, you would not know the writer’s true views from the essay. But still, we might correspond the essay to the writer’s true view or opinion on the topic.

The same happens when we watch an actor play a character in a movie. We might correspond the actor’s view to the character’s view even though we know that they are doing as instructed by the director and there it has nothing to do with the actor’s personal opinion.

Also Read: What Is The Psychology Behind Phobias?

3) Self Serving Bias:

It refers to the tendency to attribute success to internal factors (abilities and efforts) and failure to external factors (bad luck, difficult circumstances). This helps individuals to maintain self-esteem by preserving positive self-views. Example: When you pass an exam, you may attribute it to your abilities and the number of effort you put into it. And if you fail an exam, you may say that the paper was tough, or the teacher did not check properly.

4) Halo Effect:

This refers to a tendency to allow one positive trait of a person to overshadow other traits. For example, if a person is really attractive, he might be inherently kind too. Or a person with spectacles might be a nerd, or highly intelligent.

5) Horns Effect:

This is the opposite of the halo effect. It is our tendency to allow one negative trait of a person to overshadow other traits or influence the perception of other traits. For example, assuming someone who has made a mistake is incompetent in general. Or when you see someone raising their hand at a child as a fundamentally aggressive person.

6) Confirmation Bias:

It refers to our tendency to search, interpret, and remember information in such a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs or hypotheses while ignoring contradicting evidence. For example, a person fully supports and believes in a political party and hence posts and believes every positive thing regarding their work, and when they find anything opposing their beliefs, they might think it as wrong and biased opinion even in the face of evident facts.

7) Just World Hypothesis:

It is the belief that the world is fundamentally fair, hence people get what they deserve. Consequently, when something bad happens to someone, we tend to believe that it is because they deserve it or in the popular term it is their KARMA.

Also Read: Psychology Behind Blushing


Attribution biases affect our daily judgment and perception of individuals and society. They stop us from perceiving the objective reality and knowing the truth about society. These attribution errors make us and feed into our prejudices and stereotypes. Being aware of our biases is important because it makes us self-aware of our thought processes and helps us make objective judgments about people and society.

  • https://www.beapplied.com/post/attribution-bias-what-is-attribution-bias
  • https://opentextbc.ca/socialpsychology/chapter/biases-in-attribution/
  • https://www.verywellmind.com/attribution-social-psychology-2795898

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