In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error, also known as the correspondence bias or attribution effect, is people’s tendency to place an undue emphasis on internal characteristics to explain someone else’s behavior in a given situation, rather than considering external factors. It does not explain interpretations of one’s own behavior, where situational factors are more easily recognized and can thus be taken into consideration. The flip side of this error is the actor–observer bias, in which people tend to overemphasize the role of a situation in their behaviors and underemphasize the role of their own personalities.
As a simple example, consider a situation where Alice, a driver, is about to pass through an intersection. Her light turns green and she begins to accelerate, but another car drives through the red light and crosses in front of her. The fundamental attribution error may lead her to think that the driver of the other car was an unskilled or reckless driver. This will be an error if the other driver had a good reason for running the light, such as rushing a patient to the hospital. If this is the case and Alice had been driving the other car, she would have understood that the situation called for speed at the cost of safety, but when seeing it from the outside she was inclined to believe that the behavior of the other driver reflected their fundamental nature (having poor driving skills or a reckless attitude).