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Attribution Bias

Attribution Bias

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand the concept of attribution bias.

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Video Transcription

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And something happens, an event or an action, whether it be good or bad, we like to decide who's responsible. Who or what is responsible for what's happened. And we probably think we do a pretty good job at this, we're pretty rational, but are we really? Or is there some bias involved? Well, I'm Marlene, and today I'd like to talk with you about something called Attribution Bias. Attribution Bias.

Now, this is a cognitive tendency to give positive traits to those that are like us or to ourselves, and more negative traits to people that we see is not like us. So, here's the tendency, positive for ourselves, and negative towards others. These others would be those that we do not see that are like us. Now, this could be at the individual level, self, and others, and attribution bias, could also manifest at the group level.

Now, we've talked some about In-Groups and Out-Groups groups. Let me just write those terms down again OK. The In-Group is in a group we define ourselves as being part of, whether it be a social group, a group that we have an interest in, it might be a cause we're involved in, maybe a place we worship, school we went to. Its our group. OK. The people who are in that group we perceive as being more similar to us, like us.

And the Out-Group, OK. Those are the people that aren't in our group. So, they're not like us. They're a bit more dissimilar. They're different. We tend to see them as different. So, Attribution Bias says that all of these people over here that are different, whether it be an individual, or a group, it's easy for us to give them more of a negative attribute. In other words, something good happens to them, well, it may have been just luck. Or if something bad happens, well that's just how they are.

So, could be that kind of tendency. Alternatively, our own successes, well, you know, this is just some innate quality. I did well on the test, I really studied hard. I've got a skill here, and I'm good at that. Or my friend who went to the same school I went to, we grew up in the same neighborhood. We liked a lot of the same things. She's a lot like me. I knew she'd ace that test. She's smart. She's got a skill. She could do it.

You see, we tend to think positively about ourselves, and give our successes, we attribute them to our innate qualities, and to those that are like us, that we perceive to be similar to us. We do the same thing with groups. OK.

So, the In-group, let's say we're in a school, and you happen to have gotten in on a science scholarship. So, we've got a person here on a science scholarship. We have another person over here who's in on an athletic scholarship. Well, I'm in on the science scholarship. You got in on the science scholarship. So, you're getting good grades, and that's because you're smart , you got a lot going on here. And that's why.

You do poorly. Well. You know, there was some outside factor that caused that, something got in the way. I wasn't feeling well. Or this happened or that happened. There's some reason why I didn't do as well as I thought, or somebody in my group here, another science major didn't do as well, because I know he could have done it.

But now over here, we look at a person who got in on the athletic scholarship. Well, they might be really good on the field. They have they're able to do some things physically very well, but you know what, the guy aced the test. That was pure luck or maybe it's somebody helping him. You know, I wonder who helped him out on that one. And of course if somebody in this group, the athlete, doesn't do well. Well. Yeah. What do you expect? You know, they only got in here on their athletic scholarship.

So, you tend to give to attribute the negative here, to the wrong innate qualities, and the positive to pure luck. So, it's the opposite. So, this isn't a tendency, This is what attribution bias is. Now, the interesting thing here is that the stronger we identify with our In-Group, because we tend to self-identify with our groups. So, we want to give them positive qualities.

So, the stronger we're identifying with any particular group, the more superior we tend to think that group is. You know, that this group is really a lot better than any group that's not that group, any particular Out-Group.

And this can lead to conflict. This can lead to conflict. For example, you can see it politically. So, in this country we have the two political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. And if you have somebody who is feeling very strongly for one of these parties, really strong Democrat or strong Republican, they might have a tendency to blame anything that happens negatively with the economy or culturally or morally in the country with that other party.

Or they're in control, or they did this, or they passed that law, and that's why this is happening. So, that can lead to quite a lot of animosity and conflict. Now, what's interesting however, is that if something should threaten the whole nation. OK. So, America itself, the United States is being threatened by an outside country, these factions may come together in support of this country because we all are Americans, and now we are identifying ourselves as Americans.

And we as Americans are superior to whoever that force is out there that has come here to threaten us. I think we saw that during 9/11, where people came together with this sense of national pride at that point because we all as a nation felt threatened. So, as an example of the Attribution Bias and how it can manifest in groups.

Now, this sense to attribute to the positive traits to ourselves and negative to those we see unlike us, can escalate conflicts. For example, you could have, say a rally, where you've got demonstrators, and then you've got the cops that are called out. So, one side you have these demonstrators, and on this side you have the cops.

And the cops may be looking at this particular group of demonstrators and thinking, we have to watch out for them. They're all out here. They are so anti-government. They're renegades, and they don't care about the law. . Whereas, the demonstrators may be looking at the cops as holders of the system.

And so you have these traits and tendencies that each side is ascribing to the other, and the more that happens the easier it is for conflict to escalate and to be provoked. So, you can see that happen.

You can see this happen between groups that where there are stereotypes even racially or ethnically. Because when we feel this strong sense of superiority with our own group, we can tend to stereotype everybody on the other side, which is what's happening in this example with demonstrators and cops. And of course a stereotype is looking at a whole group as though everybody in that group is alike.

They all have certain traits and tendencies instead of seeing people as individuals. When we have that tendency, there can be a tendency to blame that particular group, the Out-Group here, for things that are beyond their control. That they've had no part in, but we see them as somehow responsible for things that perhaps they are not responsible for.

So, conflict starts oftentimes with the way we hold and perceive others who are not like us. We have a tendency towards Attribution Bias. That tendency leads us to think more negatively about those that we see as not being similar to us, whether it be individuals or groups. Thank you for joining me, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know
Attribution Bias

A tendency to assign more positive traits to members of one's own group and to assign more negative traits to non-members.


A group in which a given person defines herself or himself a member.


A group in which a given person does not define himself or herself.


Forming a belief that certain general trends or traits of a group (culture) apply equally strongly to all individual members of that group; perceiving people as simplistic representatives of abstract cultural traits rather than as individuals.