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Behavioural influences – dispositional or situational?

The Guardian article The mistake we all make… and the simple experiment that reveals it alerts to our “fundamental attribution error”, whereby we tend to greatly underestimate the situational factors that influence human behaviour. We’re warned that this error constantly gets us into trouble:

We trust people we ought not to, we avoid people who really are perfectly nice, we hire people who are not all that competent – all because we fail to recognise situational forces that may be operating on the person’s behaviour.

Guidance is offered in dealing with the significant implications of this error:

  1. Pay more attention to context. This will improve the odds that we’ll correctly identify situational factors that are influencing our behaviour and that of others.
  2. Realise that situational factors usually influence our behaviour and that of others more than they seem to, whereas dispositional factors are usually less influential than they seem.
  3. Realise that other people think their behaviour is more responsive to situational factors than you’re inclined to think – and they’re more likely to be right than you are.
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    1. Thanks Christina. This was one of our very early articles, when I thought that because of the information overload that people face in modern society, our readers would be looking for just very brief information snippets such as this. However, the feedback we received showed that people were actually seeking much more in-depth analysis, which is great to see, and we’ve sought to provide that ever since. At some time in the future when time allows I’d like to be able to go back and expand or rewrite these earlier articles.

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