Reconsidering the 'bias' in 'the correspondence bias'


We do not directly observe the internal qualities of others so we must infer them from behavior. Although classic attribution theories agree that we consider situational pressures when estimating such internal qualities, one of the best-known results in psychology is that we are prone to a correspondence bias: That we draw inferences from behavior, even when we know that the situation has constrained the action. Dozens of theoretical accounts have sought to explain this result, with the most famous being the proposal that we commit a fundamental attribution error: We are systematically biased to underappreciate the influence of external factors and thus overattribute behavior to disposition. Although there remains disagreement about why we attribute constrained behavior to disposition, most researchers agree that this tendency is in fact an error. We propose that the social judgments made in classic attitude attribution studies have been widely interpreted as reasoning errors only because they have been compared to an inappropriate benchmark, predicated on the assumption of deterministic dispositions and situations. Building from earlier probabilistic accounts, we review classic results that demonstrate that social inferences are consistent with unbiased probabilistic attribution of the influence of situations and dispositions in an uncertain world.