What is the difference between actor-observer bias vs. fundamental attribution error?

The actor-observer bias and the fundamental attribution error are both types of cognitive bias. More specifically, they are cognitive biases that occur when we are trying to explain behavior.

Although they are very similar, there is a key difference between them.

According to the fundamental attribution error,  people tend to attribute another’s actions to their character or personality, and fail to recognize any external factors that contributed to this. For example, when we see someone driving recklessly on a rainy day, we are more likely to think that they are just an irresponsible driver who always drives like that. The reality might be that they were stuck in traffic and now are afraid they are late picking up their kid from daycare, but we fail to consider this.

On the other hand, the actor-observer bias (or asymmetry) means that, if a few minutes later we exhibited the same behavior and drove dangerously, we would be more inclined to blame external circumstances like the rain, the traffic, or a pressing appointment we had. As actors, we would blame the situation for our reckless driving, while as observers, we would blame the driver, ignoring any situational factors.

For this reason, the actor-observer bias can be thought of as an extension of the fundamental attribution error.