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Correspondence Bias


Explanations > Theories > Correspondence Bias

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 



When we see a person doing something, we tend to assume that they are doing this more because this is 'how they are' -- that is because of their internal disposition -- than the external environmental situational factors.

There are four main reasons for this correspondence bias:

  • Lack of awareness. If you do not know that a person is being threatened, then you are far more likely to assume they have a nervous disposition. This can easily happen when the situation is not physically apparent, such as when a person is in the first day of a new job.
  • Unrealistic expectations. If I believe that a teacher is all-knowing, then I expect their first lesson to be as good as their hundredth. Likewise if they have just taught a lesson that bombed. Even if am aware of these factors, I expect them to perform consistently.
  • Inflated categorization. My expectations of the teacher are made worse if I expect all teachers to be equally competent. Likewise, if I categorize all questions as showing that you don't know things, then I might assume that when the teacher asks the student questions it is because the teacher does not know the answer.
  • Incomplete corrections. I can further infer incorrectly about the teachers questions, such as that they are asking the wrong questions and hence do no understand their subject. 


Jones and Harris found that people decided that students who had written pro- or anti-Castro essays were actually pro- or anti-Castro, even when the participants knew that the students had been instructed to write the essays in this way.


When I buy something from the corner shop and the owner does not serve me with a smile, I assume it is because he is a miserable old fool.

So what?

Using it

If you want a person to be perceived by others to have a certain disposition, maneuver them into a situation where they perform actions whereby it may easily be assume that this is because of their disposition.


When you do something and others are observing, think about how they are attributing to your disposition. Correct their perception as necessary. 

See also

Actor-Observer Difference, Attribution Theory, Fundamental Attribution Error



Gilbert and Malone (1995), Jones and Harris (1967)

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