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Many of Us Make Big Assumptions About People’s Personality Without Being Aware of It

Many of Us Make Big Assumptions About People’s Personality Without Being Aware of It

Think about the last time somebody annoyed you. Maybe your boss shouted at you for something that wasn’t your fault. Did you think something like this?

“She’s so short-tempered.”

“She’s just an unreasonable person.”

“She can’t control her anger.”

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If you did, then you could be guilty of making a fundamental attribution error.

What is a fundamental attribution error?

Making a fundamental attribution error means explaining someone’s behavior based on internal factors, like personality type, rather than considering how external factors could have influenced their actions.[1]

For example, if a friend fails to complete his homework on time, you might think, “It’s because he’s so lazy,’ when in reality, your friend might have been working overtime at his second job, leaving him no time for schoolwork.

To help you become more self-aware, check out this list of situations where you might make fundamental attribution errors:

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  • At work. Especially when we disagree with someone or their behavior damages our own performance.
  • With family. We might unfairly judge someone’s character because we think we know them so well.
  • In relationships. Arguments can cause us to make rash assumptions about our partner’s personality.
  • In public. When we don’t know people well, it’s easy to judge them without considering the reasons behind their actions.

Here are some examples of fundamental attribution errors in our daily lives:

Check out the examples of fundamental attribution errors below, and see if you can recognize yourself in any of the scenarios. If so, don’t worry – it’s 100% possible to change the way you view others.

  • When someone hurts your feelings. It’s tempting to make big assumptions about someone’s personality when they’ve hurt you. Try to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
  • When dealing with strangers. We’re quick to make snap judgements, often about people we’ve never even spoken to. Next time you see a parent shout at their child in public, try considering the stress they might be under, instead of instantly judging them to be a bad parent.
  • When arguing with a partner. Fundamental attribution errors can be really damaging to a relationship, and might make your partner feel unfairly criticised. Have you ever been arguing about a relatively small issue, and said something like, “You’re so thoughtless”, or “You never listen to me”? These dramatic statements are rarely true and often make unfair generalizations about your partner’s behavior.
  • When you disagree with someone. When someone presents a point of view you completely disagree with, it’s easy to think, “He’s so stupid.” However, this kind of black and white thinking prevents us from being open to new ideas. It’s also unfair to others.

Why do we make fundamental attribution errors?

There’s a key reason that we make fundamental attribution errors about others, but not about ourselves.

We know the reasons and context behind our own behavior, but other peoples’ motivations often remain a mystery. If you are late to a meeting because you’re caring for a sick family member, you’ll probably go easy on yourself. If a coworker is late, you might assume they slept in or couldn’t be bothered to check the time.

Not knowing the true reasons for someone’s actions significantly affects they way we judge them.

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How can you catch yourself before making a fundamental attribution error?

Luckily, it’s possible to stop ourselves before we make fundamental attribution errors. This can help us to be more understanding, build better relationships, and feel less hurt by the actions of others.

Next time you catch yourself making a blanket judgement on someone’s personality, try the following techniques.[2]

Avoid generalizing someone’s behavior

Try not to use words like, ‘always’ or ‘never’ when describing someone’s behavior. Instead of saying to your partner, “You never help with the housework,” try saying something like, “You haven’t helped much with the housework this week.” This feels much fairer and more reasonable.

Look for the best in people

Fundamental attribution errors often occur because we’re assuming the worst of people. We tend to think that other people are selfish, stupid, or thoughtless, while thinking of ourselves as kind and reasonable. Try to see the best in other people, rather than searching for evidence of their flaws.

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Make up excuses for peoples’ actions

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and see if you can come up for any excuses for their behavior. For example, “She was short with me because she’s tired after caring for a newborn all night,” or “He pushed into the front of the queue because he needs to buy urgent medical supplies.” This exercise helps you to consider all the possible reasons for peoples’ behavior.

Ask the person about their behavior

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best. Wondering why someone behaved the way they did? Just ask. You might get an answer like, “Sorry, I’d had a long day. I can see that I was wrong.” Be sure to word your question in a constructive, understanding way. Don’t insult the person or make unfair accusations.

How many times have you judged someone unfairly? Use these tips to stop making fundamental attribution errors and start understanding others instead.

Reference

More by this author

Eloise Best

Eloise is an everyday health expert and runs My Vegan Supermarket, a vegan blog and database of supermarket products.

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Last Updated on June 24, 2019

Why Social Media Might Be Causing Depression

Why Social Media Might Be Causing Depression

A study [1] published in Depression and Anxiety found that social media users are more likely to be depressed. This was just one of the huge number of studies linking social media and depression[2] . But why exactly do platforms like Facebook and Instagram make people so unhappy? Well, we don’t know yet for sure, but there are some explanations.

Social Media Could Lead to Depression

Depression is a serious medical condition that affects how you think, feel, and behave. Social media may lead to depression in predisposed individuals or make existing symptoms of depression[3] worse explains[4] the study above’s senior author Dr. Brian Primack. So, the problem may not be in social media per se, but how we use it.

Signs You’re Suffering From “Social Media Depression”

If you feel like social media is having a negative impact on your mood, then you may be suffering from “social media depression.” Look for symptoms like:

• low self-esteem,

• negative self-talk,

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• a low mood,

• irritability,

• a lack of interest in activities once enjoyed,

• and social withdrawal.

If you’ve had these symptoms for more than two weeks and if this is how you feel most of the time, then you are likely depressed. Although “social media depression “is not a term recognized in the medical setting, social media depression seems to be a real phenomenon affecting around 50% of social media users. As explained in a review study[5] published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, if a person has a certain predisposition to depression and other mental disorders, social media use may only worsen their mental health.

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Social Media Could Crush Self-Esteem

We know that social media and depression are in some way linked, but why is this so? Well, according to Igor Pantic, MD, Ph.D.[6], social media use skews your perception about other people’s lives and traits. To explain this further, most people like to portray an idealized image of their lives, personal traits, and appearance on sites like Facebook and Instagram. If you confuse this idealized image with reality, you may be under the false impression that everyone is better than you which can crush your self-esteem and lead to depression. This is especially true for teens and young adults who are more likely to compare themselves to others. If you already suffer from low self-esteem, the illusion that everyone has it better off than you will just make you feel worse.

Causing Social Isolation and Other Negative Emotions

Another commonly cited reason for the negative impact of social media on mental health is its link with social isolation. Depressed people are more likely to isolate themselves socially and chose only to interact indirectly through social media platforms. But communication online tends to be superficial and is lacking when compared to real-life interaction explains Panic. What this means is not that social media leads to isolation but the other way around, possibly explaining why we find so many depressed persons on these sites.

Lastly, social media use may generate negative emotions in you like envy, jealousy, dislike, loneliness, and many others and this may worsen your depressive symptoms.

Why We Need to Take This Seriously

Both depression and social media use are on the rise according to epidemiological studies. Since each one has an impact on the other, we have to start thinking of healthier ways to use social media. Teens and young adults are especially vulnerable to the negative impact of social media on mental health.

Advice on Social Media Use

Although these findings did not provide any cause-effect explanation regarding Facebook and depression[7], they still do prove that social media use may not be a good way to handle depression. For this reason, the leading authors of these studies gave some suggestions as to how clinicians and people can make use of such findings.

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One suggestion is that clinicians should ask patients about their social media habits. Then they can advise them on how to change their outlook on social media use or even suggest limiting their time spent on social media.

Some social media users may also exhibit addictive behavior; they may spend too much time due to compulsive urges. Any compulsive behavior is bound to lead to feelings of guilt which can worsen depressive symptoms.

Having Unhealthy Relationship with Social Media

If you feel like your relationship with social media is unhealthy, then consider the advice on healthy social media use provided by psychology experts from Links Psychology[8]:

Avoid negative social comparison – always keep in mind that how people portray themselves and their lives on social media is not a realistic picture, but rather an idealized one. Also, avoid comparing yourself to others because this behavior can lead to negative self-talk.

Remember that social media is not a replacement for real life – Social media is great for staying in touch and having fun, but it should never replace real-world interactions.

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Avoid releasing personal information – For your safety and privacy, make sure to be careful with what you post online.

Report users who bully and harass you – It’s easy to be a bully in the anonymous and distant world of social media. Don’t take such offense personally and report those who abuse social media to harass others.

The bits of advice listed above can help you establish a healthy relationship with social media. Always keep these things in mind to avoid losing an objective perspective of what social media is and how it is different from real life. If you are currently suffering from depression, talk to your doctor about what is bothering you so that you can get the treatment you need to get better. Tell your doctor about your social media use and see if they could give you some advice on this topic.

Reference

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