Attribution Bias

Article byKhalid Ahmed
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Attribution Bias Definition

Attribution bias is a cognitive bias causing a person to misinterpret their impulse and others’ behavior. As a result, it becomes an easy tool for a person to protect their egoistic behavior and self-image in front of others. Unfortunately, it often has negative connotations associated with it.

Attribution Bias

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It leads a person to explain other people’s behavior based on their character instead of the situation they face. As a result, people tend to emphasize on person’s activity rather than the societal reason behind that action. It results in exaggerating individual traits and wrongly portraying a circumstance. The most negative impact of this bias has been the minimizing role of the situation and maximizing the individual’s role in a scenario.

Key Takeaways

  • Attribution bias means the error committed by a person who decides another person’s character is the root cause of any problem without considering the external factors affecting those actions.
  • It becomes a potent tool to protect one’s ego and self-image while maligning others to prove oneself correct all the time and others as wrong for all bad situations to an outcome.
  • Victim blaming and employee performance gets badly affected due to the bias attributed n the person instead of the circumstances leading to the incidence or the outcome.
  • It has many types depending on the situation: value impression, fundamental impression bias, interpretive bias, actor-observer bias, fundamental attribution error, and self-serving bias.

Attribution Bias Explained

Attribution bias refers to the negative tendency of an individual to judge a person on their character rather than the circumstances responsible for their particular action. It makes one over-weigh the importance of an individual’s character and lightens the effect of situations on their actions. It allows people to make excuses to justify their judgment and wrong actions by others.

Whenever an incident happens in a person’s life, the doer and the observer lie on different planes of thinking. In such a situation, the observer tends to blame the doer of the action more than the circumstance making them do the activity. Although, it may not represent the correct picture of the activity, situation, and the doer. However, it becomes an easy way out for the observer to prove themselves correct and protect their ego.

The wrong judgment of an observer falls under the cognitive bias of making wrong decisions to solve a particular problem. The observer often makes a mistake and assumes the wrong cause of a problem. Hence, they devise the wrong solution for solving the problem that has no disastrous effect on the population, society, or company. It happens due to blaming an individual’s character for the problem rather than focusing on the root cause of the problem.

One may find attribution bias in cases such as victim-blaming and at all workplaces related to employee performance. Moreover, if one concentrates more on a person’s behavior than on the real causes of bias, those decisions become wrong and harmful. As a result, most of the time, it leads to grave consequences. Nevertheless, attribution bias depends on many situations and factors related to the circumstance. Lastly, one can understand it as a perpetual error that keeps the bias occurring every time.

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One can find different types of bias associated with the perpetual error of an individual. Also, with changing situations, the type of bias gets changed in tandem with the factors that wrap around an individual’s activity. Therefore, the bias gets divided into the following types:

#1 – Self-Serving Bias

Such a bias occurs when an observer tries to take advantage of the result of an incident. Here, the observer tends to make the outcome of the incident in their favor.

#2 – Fundamental Attribution Error

Victim blaming falls in such a category. Under it, another person blames someone suffering from a mishap for miseries. However, the blamer ignores the factors, causes, and person behind the sufferings of a victim. At the same time, they glorify the heroism of the doer of the crime. As a result, the victim gets punishment by society, and the doer remains free and not punished under fundamental attribution bias.

#3 – Actor-Observer Bias 

Under it, an observer blames the doer of an activity unjustly for causing the worst-case scenario instead of the factors surrounding the person making him do the action. However, when the observer does the same action as the doer, the observer blames the outside forces and the factors causing the action. Here, the observer goes Scott free, and the doer gets caught guilty.

#4 – Interpretive Bias

It is called hostile attribution bias, wherein an individual observer interprets the doer’s action as hostile to himself instead of harmless. Researchers have linked such bias to the aggressive behavior of an observer. For instance, a child interprets their friends talking to each other as planning to harm them.

#5 – Negative Impression Bias

It is also called negative attribution bias, where an individual tends to focus more on the negative attributes of other individuals. When the observer gets hurt, they exaggerate others’ negative impressions.

#6 – Fundamental Impression Bias

One may also call it fundamental attribution bias, where an observer tries to forgive their negative behavior and point out others’ mistakes as the result of their intrinsic behavior. Also, here the observer blames the environment for their mistakes and does to accept the same reason for others’ mistakes.

#7 – Value Impression Bias

One can call it value attribution bias, where an observer assigns certain values to other persons based on their appearance out of the brain’s habit of taking shortcuts using psychological factors. It has become a part of the brain’s reflexive thinking when it comes across any new person. Here, anyone decides about the future perceptions of an individual based on the worthiness of paying attention to it.


Let us go through some examples to understand the topic.

Example #1

A common place of occurrence of such bias has been the workplace. When an employee does exemplary work in their office, the boss comes forward to take credit for the employee’s performance. However, if the same employee fails at any official task or underperforms, the same boss blames the employee for the failure. Hence, the boss has an inbuilt self-serving bias regarding their employee.

Example #2

With more than 60% of active players coming from the United States alone, the stock market is one of the largest human gatherings for investment. With so many different psyches, prejudices are bound to exist. Self-attribution bias is not new to the playground of investors.

As investors of all levels deposit their hard-earned money in the stock exchanges, they do not want to be held accountable for their investment’s failure. The explanation is that accepting responsibility would require them to admit that they were the ones who lost their own money. It is always preferable to point the finger at the market sentiment, volatility, or several other factors. The accused responded by fighting back.

However, even a tiny bit of green in someone’s portfolio shows genuine talent. No credit for any increase in capital or profits is given to any of the elements above.

Investors with ego fluctuations exhibit maniacal buying or panicked selling without justifiable justification. As a result, people swiftly alter their viewpoints.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is value attribution bias in the workplace?

In the workplace, managers tend to take credit for employees’ good work and blame employees for their failures. It encapsulates the tendency to attribute particular attributes to individuals or things based on perceived value rather than factual data.

2. Which of these represents the fundamental attribution bias?

The easiest assumption that one failed the examination due to laziness represents the fundamental attribution bias.

3. How to avoid attribution bias?

One can avoid attribution error by practicing self-awareness, focusing on being objective related to any fact, and being aware of the mind’s ability to consider others in bad light and self in good light.

4. What do attribution biases imply about managers?

It implies that managers should thoroughly understand individual variations to identify the root of the behavior and the origin of accountability.

This article has been a guide to Attribution Bias and its definition. Here, we explain the topic in detail with its examples and types. You may also find some useful articles here –

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