When people make an attribution, they are guessing about the causes of events or behaviors. These guesses are often wrong. People have systematic biases, which lead them to make incorrect attributions. These biases include the fundamental attribution error, the self-serving bias, and the just world hypothesis.
The fundamental attribution error is the tendency to attribute other people’s behavior to internal factors such as personality traits, abilities, and feelings. The fundamental attribution error is also called the correspondence bias, because it is assumed that other people’s behavior corresponds to their personal attributes. When explaining their own behavior, on the other hand, people tend to attribute it to situational factors.
Example: Alexis falls asleep in class. Sean attributes her behavior to laziness. When he fell asleep in class last week, however, he attributed his own behavior to the all-nighter he pulled finishing a term paper.
The self-serving bias is the tendency to attribute successes to internal factors and failures to situational factors. This bias tends to increase as time passes after an event. Therefore, the further in the past an event is, the more likely people are to congratulate themselves for successes and to blame the situation for failures.
Example: Chad wins a poetry competition but fails to get the poem published in a magazine he sent it to. He attributes his success in the competition to his talent. He attributes his failure to get it published to bad luck.
The just world hypothesis refers to the need to believe that the world is fair and that people get what they deserve. The just world hypothesis gives people a sense of security and helps them to find meaning in difficult circumstances.