You’re not a jerk, you just haven’t had your coffee yet

The fundamental attribution error describes the tendency to explain someone’s behaviour based on their disposition or personality, while not considering the situation affecting them.

For example:

Observation Explain by disposition Explain by situation
Mark jiggles his double chin. Mark is letting himself go. Mark looks fat because he’s pregnant.
David trips over. David is clumsy. Warren was sleeping behind David’s chair.
Josh has big hair today. Josh is a crazy man. Josh’s hairdryer is a jet engine.
Nick is rude to someone. Nick is a jerk. Nick is jaded, has been here 12 years and is trying to give up coffee.

Naturally, this challenges some of our assumptions about web users and the way we as website-makers appeal to them. Are users actually stupid and/or lazy – or do poor design, copy and workflow put them in a position to respond this way?

By the way, the Curse of Knowledge phenomenon makes this entirely plausible.

So – what other observations could we reconsider, in light of the attribution error, during our design process?


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