Attribution is a term describing the inferences people make when trying to explain the causes of certain events, the behavior of others, or their own behavior. Because these inferences are based not only on objective facts but also on our mental state, emotions, and past experiences, attributions can be distorted and lead to bias.
An example of such bias is hostile attribution bias, or the tendency to attribute negative intentions to others, especially when their intentions are unclear.
To measure hostile attribution bias, studies typically present participants with a hypothetical situation in which an individual is provoked by a peer whose behavior is purposely ambiguous. Participants are then asked to indicate the intent of the peer. This can be done through videos, pictures, audio, vignettes, or staged interactions (with actors).
Two important considerations when choosing the format are ecological validity (i.e., the extent to which the results are generalizable to a real-life setting) and social desirability bias (i.e., participants may not have wanted to report hostile attributions).
The vividness effect in communication is the persuasive impact that vivid information is thought to have on opinions and behaviors. In other words, information that is vivid, concrete, dramatic, etc., is more likely to capture our attention and sway us into believing or doing one thing rather than another. On the contrary, information that is dull or abstract is not so effective. The vividness effect relates to the vividness bias.
A real-life example of vividness bias can often be observed in the outcome of business negotiations. Price is usually the most vivid information, while other aspects, such the complexity of implementation, or the time needed to complete the project, might be ignored.
Vividness bias is important because it can affect our decisions and negotiations. It causes us to assign more weight to vivid information, like a perception of prestige, rather than other factors that, upon greater reflection, are more important to us. As a result, we get distracted and lose sight of our goals and priorities.
Normality bias (or normalcy bias) is the tendency to underestimate the likelihood or impact of a potential hazard, based on the belief that things will continue as they have in the past. For example, you hear a sudden noise and think it must be fireworks. However, in reality it’s a gunshot. Instead of finding a safe spot, you go about your business because your brain “normalizes” the noise.
Normalcy bias and optimism bias are closely related as they both influence our risk perception. However, they are two separate phenomena.
- Normalcy bias denotes our tendency to minimize or ignore threat warnings and to believe that nothing can seriously disrupt our everyday life.
- Optimism bias, on the other hand, denotes the tendency to overestimate the likelihood of positive events and underestimate the likelihood of negative events.
Although normalcy bias and optimism bias are distinct types of bias, they may reinforce each other. For instance, an individual who receives a hurricane alert may underestimate how serious it is (normalcy bias) and may also think that even if the hurricane affects their area, nothing bad will happen to them personally (optimism bias).
The opposite of normalcy bias is overreaction or worst-case scenario bias. This happens when people exaggerate the likelihood of negative outcomes or consequences when faced with a threat warning. In other words, people jump to the worst possible conclusion, no matter how improbable it is. For instance panic-buying of toilet paper, face masks, and food in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak are examples of overreaction.
A real-life example of correspondence bias is how we think about people who cut in line. For example, you are waiting in line at the airport and someone cuts in front of you at the security checkpoint. Because of correspondence bias, your immediate reaction is to feel annoyed and think that the person must be entitled and rude. In reality, this person may never cut into lines and they are doing this only because they are about to miss their plane, which they are taking to visit a sick family member.
Correspondence bias is a problem because it can cause us to make incorrect judgments about other people’s behaviors. This can lead to misunderstandings that can negatively affect our relationship with them. When we overlook the situation and jump to conclusions about an individual’s character, it is also easier to justify reacting to them aggressively.
In a wider social context, if we ignore the situational factors that might have pushed someone to behave a certain way, we may also ignore systemic factors, like discrimination. For example, some people attribute poverty and unemployment to individuals rather than to social conditions.