Emotional Intelligence and the Fundamental Attribution Error

Recently this article appeared in my inbox. What the fundamental attribution error misses about blame

This made me think about the relationship between Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE).  The FAE is the idea that people tend to overemphasize dispositional explanations for behaviour and ignore situational factors. This phenomenon is significant because it can lead to judgments and decisions that are unfair and inaccurate. In contrast, EI is the ability to recognize and regulate one’s emotions and understand the emotions of others, allowing individuals to make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and enhance overall well-being.

The relationship between EI and the FAE is that people with high emotional intelligence tend to be less prone to the FAE. This is because individuals with high EI, especially those trained in the 7MTF, are better able to understand and empathize with others, which allows them to consider situational factors that may have influenced behaviour. They are also more aware of their own emotions and how they can affect their perceptions, allowing them to avoid making unfair judgments based on their own biases.

The FAE has been studied extensively in social psychology, and many experiments have demonstrated the prevalence of this phenomenon. Take for example the case of the new principal of a school on the verge of closure. The principal illicitly pays a testing representative to receive test questions in advance and distributes them to teachers and students, concealing their source. Eventually, his deed is discovered.

People might assume that the principal is a dishonest person who is willing to cheat in order to save the school, without considering the situational factors that led to his decision. However, if we apply the 7MTF temperament model, we might see that the principal’s temperament has a high Politician component, and he may have felt a strong need to take control of the situation and save the school. In this case, his behaviour may have been influenced more by his temperament than his moral character. The FAE is relevant in this situation because people tend to attribute behaviour to personal dispositions rather than situational factors. In this case, if the principal is judged solely based on his actions, people may assume that he is a dishonest person. However, if situational and temperament factors, such as the lack of resources for teachers and students, are considered, the principal’s actions may be seen as a desperate attempt to save the school.

Understanding the role of temperament in behaviour can help people develop their EI and avoid making snap judgments based on the FAE. For example, if a person knows that they have dominant Politician component and tend to be quick to anger, they can work on managing their emotions and considering situational factors before reacting to a situation.

It is important to recognize the impact of both the FAE and the 7MTF in your judgments and decisions. However, it is also important to understand that not all people are equally susceptible to the FAE. Research has shown that cultural differences can influence the tendency to attribute behaviour to dispositional or situational factors. For example, East Asian and Latino participants have been found to interpret behaviour more in terms of situations and less in terms of personal dispositions than Westerners.

EI can also play a role in mitigating the FAE. Individuals with high EI are better able to understand and empathize with others, which allows them to consider situational factors that may have influenced behaviour. They are also more aware of their own emotions and biases, allowing them to avoid making unfair judgments based on their own perceptions. Therefore, developing emotional intelligence can help individuals make more accurate judgments and decisions by considering both dispositional and situational factors.

In conclusion, the FAE is a psychological phenomenon that can have significant consequences in judgments and decisions. It is important to recognize and understand the FAE and its potential impact on behaviour. Developing emotional intelligence through the 7MTF can help individuals mitigate the FAE by considering situational factors and avoiding unfair judgments based on temperamental biases. Therefore, understanding both the FAE and emotional intelligence is essential for making accurate judgments and decisions in both personal and professional contexts.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn on 7 May 2023




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Chris Golis - Author


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