Why Are We So Hard On Eachother

It seems like in daily life we are pretty hard on others. Whether its getting upset while driving, shopping, at work, or in our close personal relationships. But why is this so? I believe that a lot of it has to do with the Fundamental Attribution Error. The Fundamental Attribution Error is defined as “the tendency people have to focus on personal causes of other peoples behavior and to down play the influence of situational causes”. Another way to look at it as people believe it is the persons personality which is guiding behavior rather than the situation they are in. The real interesting thing about this concept is that it does not seem to apply to ourselves. We seem to always take into consideration situational or external causes for our own behavior but not others. We seem to feel that we have good reasons for the behavior that we exhibit. But not so with others most of the time we are ready to burn them at the stake for making a mistake. But when we ourselves make the same mistake it is easy to see why people should not be so harsh with us seeing it as not a big deal. This is a very important factor because it directs how we behave with each other, which I believe is the biggest part of all our lives. It is impossible to say that we can just stop interacting with each other. I can think of a situation at work where a co-worker was consistently late, didn’t seem to want to work as part of the team, and did not seem very motivated. I exhibited the FAE in this situation and related it all to her being lazy, believing she felt as if she was better than the rest of us, and just couldn’t get up early enough to be on time. Because of the error myself and other co-workers overtime just made her an outcast from the rest of the team until she was let go for continuing to be tardy. Afterwards I talked with her an found out the back story and realized her a lot of her behavior was guided by an external bad situation she was in. How much her personality had to do with getting into the situation is another discussion. What I learned was that what she needed was support and help from others not turned away. Because of FAE none of us were able to be either of those things to her. It was an important lesson to me that someway I had to change my thinking to try to not continue to fall back into the error in the future. This is what I have tried to do using the 5 step intervention process for myself. The problem was that falling into FAE had an effect on people that I interact with. The solution was that I had to become more aware of my thought process to not to continue or to fall into FAE as much. I decided that I would take some time each evening to reflect on my day and interactions I had. I would try to look at where I maybe had treated people wrong maybe not to their face even but a negative perception. If I had the next time I had the interaction with them I would apologize if needed and change my thinking of their behavior. The short term goal turned out to be that I became more aware of my thinking, actions, and perceptions. The long term turned out to be treating others better and not reacting to others behaviors impulsively and also become less stressed not putting so much into others behavior. Although it is not too scientific it has helped me improve. I believe it is important that we all try to be a little more considerate of others everyday but especially during the holidays. The explanation of others behavior may be different than we perceive and if not at least being considerate can give us a little more piece of mind personally.

Scherman Phd., M. (2014). Why we Dont Give Each Other A Break. Real Men Dont Write Blogs. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/real-men-dont-write-blogs/201406/why-we-dont-give-each-other-break

Schneider, F. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications



  1. Thank you for sharing your self-reflection, I agree wholeheartedly that by making an assessment daily would remind yourself to “slow down” perhaps before being hasty? As the other posts capture, we are all interconnected and have to deal with each other so to speak. Even not dealing or choosing to not help someone who seems to need help can do more harm than good to that person who can think no one cares.

    “Perception is reality”, and this term or way of thinking I believe is applicable here. People will react how they feel first, albeit impulsively, and in some cases not consider how someone else might feel as a result of how we deal with others.

    I’ll take what I do for a living as perhaps the best example. I work at a call-center for a busy utility company as a customer service representatives entrusted to make decisions quickly and competently as our customers’ service is taken into accountability. Some customers can’t afford their high bill and request extensions or payment plans. Some customers have emergency situations and had their service interrupted for non-payment or might be experiencing an outage or another perceived emergency. What they aren’t expecting is someone to be judgmental or not cooperative in addressing their needs because they are the customer and we are employed to assist them. Every call and customer has similarities – how you address them politely and show empathy is a standard because they very well can be your neighbor or family member calling. I like to keep in mind that “I’m a customer too” and “I actually use this service too”…how would I like someone to deal with my concerns? I also try to use this approach in my daily life outside of work as you stated by taking a moment to analyze your interactions.

    The skills I put into practice daily at work by dealing with at least 50 customers on any given day allows me to remember we are all human and can need help, sometimes from a complete stranger. It feels good when someone thanks you for helping them with what is perceived to be a genuine and sincere effort. People can tell when you have an attitude or are reluctant or unwilling to help or even listen. Some people just want to be treated with respect because you would too if you were in their position.

    The golden rule is so simple yet so overlooked as perhaps the best intervention method – simply treating others like one would like to be treated makes sense.

  2. Anthony Theodore Panchella

    I think we are all susceptible to the fundamental attribution error, and sometimes it can have tragic consequences. Much of our opinion of others might be attributed to something called the illusory-causation phenomenon, which says we tend to “overattribute causality to a given stimulus when it is salient or the focus of their attention” (Lassiter, Geers, Ploutz-Snyder & Breitenbecher, 2002). In other words, the behavior that is in our face, is what we tend to focus on most.

    For example, we once had a guy in our Army unit who was perceived as being a jerk, and a generally angry guy. As a result of this reputation, no one wanted to associate with him. It seemed like he just kept getting angrier and less sociable as a result. Because no one wanted to associate with him, no one found out that he was in serious distress until it was too late. One day after Thanksgiving in 1998, he committed suicide.

    What we discovered in the aftermath was that this guy’s girlfriend of many years had cheated on him and left him. He had a similar experience with an ex-wife previously too. He was also in pretty bad financial debt as a result of his first divorce (his ex-wife used a general power of attorney to wipe out his bank accounts when he was away on a six-month deployment.) Needless to say, these experiences probably soured him, and helped him to be perceived as an anti-social jerk. After talking to one of his former associates, prior to the first divorce, the guy had been a really cool and sociable person.

    Bottom line, our ability to get beyond these initial perceptions could be enhanced if we take the time to get to know our colleagues. I guess it it easier said than done, but probably worth our effort considering the possible consequences.


    Lassiter, F. D., Geers, A. L., Munhall, P. J., Ploutz-Snyder, R. J., & Breitenbecher, D. L. (2002). Illusory causation: Why it occurs. Psychological Sciences, 13, 299-305.

  3. Breanna Michelle Meade

    I completely agree with your perception of the casual use of the fundamental attribution error. After learning about this concept in my last few years of psychology course, I have applied to several scenarios in daily life. After reading your post, it made me begin thinking about Black Friday shopping.
    On this day, shoppers are irate due to lack of sleep and in a rush to get in and out of an particularly crowded store. Emotions and tensions are running high. I think the fundamental attribution error can be applied to many different aspects of Black Friday shopping. Especially when it comes to how we treat each other, which is what you talked about.
    In my own case, I think it is easy for me to push past elderly women and groups with small children during Black Friday shopping because I did not get enough sleep or I have been waiting longer than them, or they are simply moving too slow. I rely on other people to understand and ignore my outbursts because they, too, should be under the same type of stress as me and have the same feelings.
    I think that in the future, Black Friday shopping would be much less chaotic is people focused more on others, as you said. As human beings, we need to take a moment and notice each other and react kindly.

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar