Mental Model Mondays #9: Fundamental Attribution Error

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Hi friends, hope we’re all keeping well.

This week will sort of be a continuation from last week’s mental model, the most respectful interpretation, since they’re heavily related to each other.

Let’s go🔥


Last year’s mental model was called the most respectful interpretation, where we attempt to explain a person’s action in the most sympathetic way possible, in order to remain as neutral and level-headed as possible.

This is all done to overcome what’s called the fundamental attribution error, where we frequently make the mistake of attributing others’ behaviour to their internal (or fundamental) motivations, rather than some possibly external factors.


-You’re basically guilty of the fundamental attribution error whenever you think someone was mean to you because they’re just a mean person, rather than thinking they were just having a bad day.

-Say you ace a test that both you and your friend was given, but your friend fails it. We might think that the friend might be lazy, stupid, or is just an idiot.

This is (obviously) a completely unfair error.

We’re attributing a behaviour to our friend based on this one incident, when in reality we don’t know the full context. Maybe there’s simply something about the topic of the test they didn’t understand fully. Maybe there’s a situation going on at home, where studying for a test is the lowest of their priorities right now.

-Say someone bumps into you at the store. Your first thought may be to immediately label the person as careless, absent-minded, etc. Maybe they didn’t like the look of you and bumped into you on purpose because they’re mean and evil and the Anti-christ himsel-

Here we’re making the error of attributing a behaviour to the person based on just this one situation, when in reality we have no idea what the person is actually like.

Lol, two models based around the ‘benefit of the doubt’ in two weeks is pretty nice I think. Always good to echo the message of being empathic and to always consider context in situations.

Grand, I’ll see you guys in another post, stay safe 👋🏼

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