Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fundamental Attribution Error

The fundamental attribution error (FAE) is used in social psychology to explain an individual's behavior based upon character assumptions without full regards to the circumstances that led to their behavior. Attribution theorists use this phenomenon to show how internal causes are overestimated to explain the errors that people tend to make. I found an interesting article on JSTOR titled: The Really Fundamental Attribution Error in Social Psychological Research by John Sabini, Michael Seipmann, and Julia Stein. This article describes various examples of the fundamental attribution error. One example that stuck out to me was the 1974 Milgram Experiment, which observed people’s obedience to authority. This experiment underestimated how people obedient people would be to shock and innocent protester merely because the experimenter commanded them to do so. These people did what they were ordered to do rather than listening to their conscience, which shows that the external situational factors were more influential than the internal dispositional factors. In many ways, this experiment relates to Zimbardo’s Stanford Experiment that we learned about in class because both experiments show how authority and order can overcome people’s conscious thinking. These experiments help explain war situations where authority power can take control over people, like in World War II. This makes me wonder how strong an individual’s willpower really is after learning bout the Milgram Experiment. Why would we put aside our conscience thinking just to obey authority commands? Are we afraid of our consequences if we are disobedient? The researcher of the article addressed an interesting cause for why the participants were very obedient: They feared embarrassment for questioning the immorality of the authority’s commands. Do you think you would have stopped shocking an innocent victim if you were listening to the authority’s orders in this experiment? Do you think the external causes would make you loose a sense of moral judgment? I would assume that many people would answer that they would have disobeyed they authority’s orders, but if they were placed in this experiment, the results would differ from their answers because the external situational causes would play a major role in their actions.

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