Brain Food #706
Fundamental attribution error
Thoughts of the day
Good morning, and welcome to those who joined Brain Food recently.
Cognitive biases are systematic errors in thinking that influence or even cloud our decision-making, often preventing us from getting to the best possible outcome. They occur unconsciously, and tend to be the result of previous experiences, perceptions, and projections that distort the way we see reality, the way we see others, and the way we see ourselves.
Being aware of our cognitive biases is a form of ‘metacognition’, or thinking about thinking. Our brain might be helping us by trying to take mental shortcuts, but taking the longer route, or at least being aware of it, can help us change perspectives, be better humans, and make wiser decisions.
One of my favourites is fundamental attribution error, our tendency to attribute the actions of someone else to their character or personality, while attributing our very own behaviour to external situational factors we cannot control.
In simple words, we judge others differently from how we judge ourselves. When things go well for others, we put it down to luck. For us, it’s all thanks to our hard work. Someone is late to a meeting because they are lazy — we were late because we were stuck in traffic. Someone gets a life-changing opportunity because they are lucky, we get it because we deserve it.
A remedy for the fundamental attribution error is to remember that we always have imperfect information at hand, making it hard to judge someone correctly, specifically when it comes to knowing their full situation.
We can learn to appreciate the role that chance plays in all outcomes, both good and bad, but also to practice empathy, by trying to imagine what it must be like for that other person. That we are all in the ninety-nine percent together.
But the most powerful tool can be looking at yourself from an outsider’s point of view. Quite possibly, there is someone out there who thinks you are very lucky.
Thank you for reading today’s Brain Food. Brain Food is a short daily newsletter that aims to make you think every day, without taking up too much of your time. If you know someone who would like it, why not forward it to them? And if you have just come across Brain Food, you can subscribe to it below:
For longer thoughts and Brain Food highlights from the archives, visit Medium.