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.
|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?