location, light, heat, or any number of situational factors.
Some of the errors that distort the perception process are attribution theory, selective
perception, halo effect, contrast effects, projection, and stereotyping.
• Attribution Theory is the theory that when we observe what seems like atypical
behaviour by and individual, we attempt to determine whether it is internally or
o Internally caused behaviour is believed to be under the personal control of
o Externally caused behaviour is believed to result from outside causes.
• In trying to determine if behaviour is internally or externally caused, we rely on
three rules about behaviour: (1) distinctiveness, (2) consensus, and (3)
• Distinctiveness: A behavioural rule that considers whether an individual acts
similarly across a variety of situations.
o Is the students always under performing? Or is the student's behaviour in
one situation uncharacteristic of behaviour usually shown in other
situations? If the behaviour is unusual then the observer is likely to make
an external attribution. If it is not unusual, the observer will probably
judge it as internally caused.
• Consensus: A behavioural rule that considers if everyone faced with a similar
situation responds in the same way.
• If everyone who is faced with a similar situation responds in the same way, we
can say the behaviour shows consensus. From an attribution perspective, if
consensus is high, you would be expected to give an external attribution to the
• Consistency: A behavioural rule that considers whether the individual has been
acting in the same way over time.
o If a student is usually on time for class, being 10 minutes late will be
perceived differently from the way it is when the student is routinely late.
How Attributions Get Distorted
One of the more interesting findings from attribution theory is that there are errors or
biases that distort attributions.
• Fundamental attribution error: The tendency to underestimate the influence of
external factors and overestimate the influence of internal factors when making
judgements about the behaviour of others.
• Self-serving bias: The tendency for individuals to attribute their own success to
internal factors while putting the blame for failures on external factors.