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Attribution theory - Attribution error and culture

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] How do we understand someone's behavior? Well, we can break down behavior into two parts. One is we can look at behavior as coming from a person's own internal attributes. And secondly, we can look at behavior as being fueled by situational or external factors, such as the weather, housing, finances. Ideally, when we're trying to analyze somebody's behavior, we are a neutral judge right in the middle. Often times, behaviors are complex and involve a combination of internal and external factors. We are not always as neutral as we want to be. One of these biases happens when we judge the behavior of others. So, when we look at the behavior of others, instead of being in the middle, we actually find ourselves over here. That means that when we look at the behavior of others, we're more likely to attribute their behavior to internal factors about that person as opposed to considering the complex situational external factors that a person may face. So in fact, we over-attribute behaviors to these internal causes. And this actually has a name. We term this the "Fundamental Attribution Error". Well, how could this be a problem? It could be a problem in terms of when we see complex patients, for example, patients who can't exercise who are obese, who are struggling with poverty, and we really under-recognize the external situational problems, the social problems, the healthcare barriers they can have, and almost blame them for the problems that they face. So, it's important to recognize that this may occur. Well, what happens when we consider our own behavior? Well, it turns out that we're not mutual, even in that case. When we consider our own behavior, we actually often skew it in the other direction. We're more likely to blame our behavior on external factors. We're more like to be victims of circumstance. And while, this doesn't have a particular name, the combination of the "Fundamental Attribution Error", along side our own tendency to blame or attribute our own behaviors on external factors combined together is actually termed the "Actor-Observer Bias", where we are victims of circumstance but others when they perform a behavior, they are willful actors. There is also, however, a cultural component. We know that "Fundamental Attribution Error" tends to occur more commonly in individualistic societies. These cultures include those found in North America and Europe, cultures who place an emphasis on individual achievement and independence. Now that we've mentioned the cultural component, let's spend a little bit more time talking about culture. Let's think about success and failure because it appears cultures may have different ways that they can attribute or explain success and failure. So, let's split this up into individualistic, so again, that's Europe and North America, and the second set of cultures is collectivist, and these are cultures that put a value on community and interdependence, and these are typically found in Africa and Asia, and remember these are generalizations. So, one of the things that we find is that in attempting to explain success, individualistic cultures tend to over-attribute success to internal factors, while on the other hand, failures are more likely to be attributed to external or situational factors. It's the complete opposite with collectivist cultures, in fact, when we look at success, they tend to attribute success to external factors and failures are more likely to attributed to internal factors. I want you to be aware of one more bias. This is called the "Self-serving bias" and this bias is a way of protecting and enhancing our own self-esteem, and this bias is much more common in individualistic cultures. If we succeed, it's down to our own internal personal qualities, but if we fail, we don't have a hit on our self-esteem because it's more likely to do with things outside of our own control. So, individualistic societies tend to demonstate a great degree of this self-serving bias and mechanism to protect our own self-esteem which is particularly important in individualistic societies because of their emphasis on individual achievement and success.