The Effect of the Fundamental Attribution Bias and Relationship on Performance Appraisal

The Effect of the Fundamental Attribution Bias and Relationship on Performance Appraisal

            The research questions of this study claims that, leaders, managers and peers, there capacity to offers an objective appraisal performance on those with whom they work with can be impacted by the quality of relationship (the degree of affection) they have with them.

Research Question

ü      How does the Fundamental Attribution Bias in relation to professional settings affect people’s ability to offer performance appraisals to their peers in an organization or a group?

Literature Review

Research question for the study is grounded on the innate that influences how people perceive and appraise behavior. Consequently, people tend to see other people’s behavior through a distorted lens. According to Fundamental Attribution Bias (FAB), people are inclined to make judgment on behavioral conduct of others on basis of their personality as opposed to situational analysis (Folkes, 1988). Jawahar, 2005 argues that “For performance ratings to be reliable and valid, raters should be able to incorporate the influence of situational factors on observed performance when assessing performance of employees” (Jawahar, 2005, P. 7). This study has been complicated due to presence of the mediating factor, a relationship that exists between the rater and performer. The focus of this study will be the effect of mediating factor (relationship) on the performance appraisal.

            There are main concepts that interconnect and acts as the focal theme of the research question in this proposal;

ü      The Fundamental Attribution Bias (FAB)

ü      Relationship quality

ü      Performance evaluation

Part 1: Fundamental Attribution Bias

            Fundamental Attribution Bias is the inclination of overestimating the influence of dispositional factors and underestimating the influence of situational factors when depicting inferences on one’s behavior. According to Heider, 1958 people attribute on others behaviors on internal factors (personality) or external (situational constraints); however, people are more prone to focus on the internal factors (Johnson, Baumeister and Vohs, 2007). FAB reflects on one’s perception that rationalizes the reasons of their behavior. Due to human tendency of focusing on personal disposition, existence of FAB forms a systematic bias in people’s decision-making process. Over centuries, there has been development of several perspectives on creating a collective attribution theory in order to explain how one’s perception can explain other people’s behavior and its effects on decision making process and choices (Johnson, Baumeister and Vohs, 2007, P. 663).

Here is a theoretical circumstance. Someone gives you a bad drive on your way home from work and throws an obscenity at you when you honk your horn in dispute. Why has he done that? A-he had a bad day and the stress has beleaguered him, B-inconsiderate driving is a standard in our country and he was just following the norm, or C-the man is a “bad-mannered”. Probably are most of us would choose the last answer. It seems to make more sense to us that actions are the consequence of intrinsic personality traits rather than social or environmental factors. This propensity to seek explanations for actions in interior nature rather than external environment is what psychologists call the Fundamental Attribution Bias (FAB).

According to Levin’s Field theory points out the need for psychology to “stop thinking of behavior as the expression of dispositional properties of a person and began to think of it as an interaction between person and environment”. According to the physics of Aristotle, behavior of an object can be attributed to inherent characteristics held in the objects (Gilbert, D.T and Malone, 1995, P. 5).

Impacts of decision making and interaction

FAB affects how people make decision influenced by emotions and inability to be objective if the relationship is in place. Although decision making is complex, it has been proven to be highly influenced by emotions. Decisions are not rational and they depend on the heuristic availability. In Forgas, 1995 model of Affect Infusion, it incorporates four information processing strategies with a different potential for affect infusion that demonstrates how much processing and outcomes are influenced by emotions. The three strategies; heuristic, substantive and motivational involve affective elements involves affective elements (Forgas, 1995, P. 361). Rational decision making is not successful. According to Hayward and Preston, 1998 linear rational process doesn’t offer satisfactory outcome under pressure and ambiguity. Synclair and Ashkanasy, 2005 argues that, decision process is partially driven by imaginations, emotions and memories crystallized into occasional insights (Sy, Tram, and O’Hara, 2006, P. 470).

Attribution for performance is influenced by observational perspective differences. Peers have more information and assume to be more accurate in their attribution performance. By viewing the situation with a cognitive lens of relationship and performance valuation that demonstrates how things are not as simple as they seem to be. An example of assumption tendency in the work place is of an employee who is incapable of performing task and managers attribute to the lack of efforts in real sense. This can be associated with one’s difficulty in being accurate in decision making process while appraising performances. Biasness tendency on a person if one has preconceived character of the person can be as a result of people’s judgement on others. As argued by Cummings and Williams, 1995 examination of attributions for peers in both constrained and unconstrained situation can be use used to support the assumption. Peers together with their role identification can lead to different styles of evaluating performance, although typically, peers have more chances of viewing performance of their coworkers and possesses an equal power. Peers are expected to attribute cause for peer’s behavior to external factors. In these circumstances, peers are found to be different in attribution for performance given (Cummings and Williams, 1995).

Reasons for FBA

1. Lack of awareness

            As argued by Gilbert and Malone, 1995 the main reason for FAB is due to lack of awareness about the situation because of perceiver’s inability to recognize external forces that comes into play in behavior. Lack of information plays a significant role in decision making process thus increasing the degree of FAB. Being aware of the situation helps people in making accurate decision and they are in a position to know more about friends thus the influence of relationship affects their level of FAB. Decision making changes with increase in awareness and the more they know the more informed decision they make (Gilbert and Malone, 1995, P. 10).

            According to Gilbert D.T and Malone, 1995 FAB also occurs due to unrealistic expectations (ability of making an estimation of the situation). An observer can have an accurate view on the cheering and even be capable of understanding the idiosyncratic of crowd’s view form performer’s perspective. However, accuracy comes as a result of observer’s accuracy in estimating the effect of stage on the performer. Use of availability heuristic is a useful strategy of estimating a situation (Gilbert D.T and Malone, 1995). According to Tversky and Kahnemanm 1974 heuristic characterizes is a phenomenon in which people base their prediction on the frequency of an event (Tversky and Kahnemanm 1974, P.1124). “People are excellent explainers but poor predictors (Fischoff, 1976, P.412)” and the main focal point of the study is the ability of making subjective estimation on probability. Decision making is made more complex by emotions and as argued by O’Sullivan, 2003, people’s ability to attribute heurist is activated by asking in making decision if one is telling the truth (O’Sullivan, 2003, P. 1325).

According to inflated categorization, people influence others on how they carry out their talks and actions. On categorization, people acts on contrary with the known behavior and they can be judged according to the known characteristics but not on the observed behavior but on the expected behavior. When individuals are cognitively busy, they have some biasness inferring that a particular individual tendency bias is low. Biases cannot be attributed to groups but on individual attribution process because each person has a different perception on the observed behavior. This difference can be traced on complexity of attribution with some personality elements. If people have more to lose, they are careful and they have more to lose (Gilbert D.T and Malone, 1995, P. 9). Incomplete reasoning is the fourth reason of why FBA occurs and this is the lack of cognitive resources and motivation. Incomplete correction is based on Sequential Operation Model (SOM). SOM Model attribution happens in the sequence of three steps. Step one is categorization and behavior identifier. In step two characterizations is the initial disposition made by association character with behavior. Correlation is the third and it is the situational adjustment in line with other constraints. The last step is the controlled and effortful if the person takes time in making analysis on the behavior (Gilbert D.T and Malone, 1995, P. 11)

2        Unrealistic Expectations

The second motive for FAB to occur is “unrealistic expectations” (Gilbert D.T. & Malone, 1995). Having unrealistic prospects refers to the ability of an observer to estimate the power of the situation.

As Gilbert and Malone explained, a spectator may have an accurate view of the cheering and even be able to comprehend the eccentric of the view of that crowd from the perspective of the performer.

On the other hand, the accuracy is the observers’ ability to guesstimate the effect of the stage on the performer – estimate the “power of the situation” limits only to what a regular person would do. (Gilbert D.T. & Malone, 1995)

Gilbert and Malone suggested that one useful approach to estimate situations is to use the availability heuristic. Tversky  and Kahneman who first identified the availability heuristic characterize it as a is an occurrence in which people base their prediction of the frequency of an event or the quantity within a population based on how easily an example can be brought to mind. (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974)

According to Fischhoff, “People are outstanding explainers but poor predictors” (Fischhoff, 1976, p. 412) and one of the focal topics of judgment research is the ability to make personal probability estimates

This suggests that it is difficult to estimation the power of situation and when we do it we depend on what comes to our mind (what we are familiar with);

Myriad studies have been spawned to emphasize how the basic attribution error crowds our minds so that we drop focus and make decisions or decisions on others depending on their traits and temperamental nature.  Experiments in cognitive science and social psychology according to Ekman have exposed a wide variety of biases in areas such as statistical way of thinking, social attribution, and memory (2003).  Questionably, biases are common to all human beings and cut across differ.

However, our desire to control behavior increases for people who we know. The potential costs of accuracy of decision are higher for people who we know rent cultures.

3. Inflated Categorization

The third reason by Gilbert is inflated “categorization” whereby it states that we persuade others by the way we carry our talks and actions.

People form rational pictures about us hence have their own opinion of who we are.  People tend to place persons into groups and for those whom they are familiar with they give them liking.  Upon classification whenever a person acts dissimilar to the known behavior then we can judge them based on the known characteristic but not on the current situation.  Categorization of behavior varies from simple to complex.  The actor’s perfect knowledge of the circumstances and ambiguous expectations based on learnt behavior.  Categorization happens simultaneously, no aware attention hence, not aware of inferential processes.

An example is the experiment of Trope (1986) reported by Gilbert is on the film on a woman who was discussing politics and sex.  One group was educated about the topic before the film while the other was informed in the end .the group that was clued-up before the film could not infer the topic because of being “inflated” hence already formed a finale.

When individuals are cognitively busy, some do not show biases inferring that certain individuals’ tendencies of biases are low.  Biases then cannot be accredited to groups but individual attribution process as each person may have a different discernment on observed behavior.  This difference can be traced to attribution complexity which some element of traits

Nevertheless, if we know someone for a long time we may quality something to them based on the status we have about our friends. Since the world demands that we make tons of decisions daily, we my not always have the time to think about every choice as much as we would like. Also we may not be alert of the fact that we are doing it – it my just be a solution to handling pressure –make decisions rapidly and not reconsider them, but rather relay on reputation.

  1.       Incomplete Correction

The fourth reason is “incomplete correction”-Lack of cognitive possessions and motivation.  This is based on Sequential Operation Model (SOM) which was propounded Pelham and Krull” (Gilbert, 1988).

The SOM Model provenance occurs in a sequence of three steps: step one is referred as categorization and it identifies behavior.  Step 2 is characterization whereby initial disposition is made by union character with behavior.  The third on the model is correlation, which is the situational alteration in line with other constraints.  The first two are like automatic response and individuals have little control.  The last one is the one which is prohibited and e effortful in that the person takes time to make a scrutiny of behavior (Gilbert D.T. & Malone, 1995) ;( Silvera et al., 2000)

The alteration process takes into account that the perceiver needs to have high cognitive value, provoked and take effort to make unparalleled analysis.  FAB decreases significantly if the person is motivated enough a takes time to do some correlation efforts (Gilbert D.T. & Malone, 1995); (Silvera et al., 2000) unfinished improvement.


Part 2: Relationship-effect of emotions

            Quality of relationship helps peers in understanding how and why decision procedure is affected when people have relationships. Those peers close to us may contribute much different and bias result since people feel comfortable when around the person. When people are with peers they have they have a high level of close values, trust and unguarded. They are less monitoring for they have known for a long time thus like and accept them and being unmindful of their performances. The quality of relationship is influenced by emotions/affection. According to Gilbert D.T and Malone, 1995 perception is the difficulty encountered while appraising performances. Awareness is significant in the quality of decision making and in the real sense; it is difficulty of the task made by a person. FAB increases in individuals if they have a cognitive capacity in adjusting to spontaneous traits inferences to situational constraints (Gilbert D.T and Malone, 1995, P. 11). According to Heider, 1958 positive unit relationship is the nature of behavior. Expectancy of meeting and interacting with target person is important in producing increased attention and liking. Attribution changes over time and individual involvement affect FAB (Tversky and Kahneman, 1974, P. 1128).

Part 3; Performance appraisal- the results of the effects

According to Peters, O’Connor and Rudolph, 1980 individual’s performance can be viewed as a function of the motivation and ability together with performance constraints. Performance constraints are inadequate time to complete a task, equipment or budgetary support. When these factors are present the situation id situationally-constrained. For one to be effective, appraisal should be reliable, accepted by individuals within an organization, valid and must favorable compare with traditional forms of performance appraisal.  For accurate judgement, decision makers must steer away from narrow-minded views that have no base. Owing on natural inclination entrenched on each person; temptation of making judgment based on individual perception forms a systematic bias for the observer.  In n organization, frequently, decisions are related in evaluating other people’s performances and its outcomes with a significant impact on one’s success. Job performance is influenced by employee’s ability to use emotions in facilitating their performance. Employees can use positive and negative emotions for their advantage in improving performance (Sy, Tram and O’Hara, 2006, P. 463)


FAB is a natural tendency because people naturally related to feeling not objects. People look for familiarity of something they can be associated with. People are also selfish, more pessimists than being optimists and they are competitive.  Fundamental attribution bias occurs and currently there is no a generally accepted explanation on why it occurs. Perception and inability to analyze salient features has been associated with it. When people are observed, they became the focal point thus excluding external forces. When we analyze ourselves we became aware of situational forces thus being able to assign environmental cause to exhibited behavior but not in others.


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