The Rookery

Madeline's thoughts on social deduction games, forum/community meta, and any other philosophical musings
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No mountains, no valleys
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Never argue with idiots; they'll drag you down to their level and then beat you on experience.
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In psychology, the "fundamental attribution error" refers to people's tendency to attribute other people's decisions to what kind of person they are more so than situational factors. The example Wikipedia gives is that when A cuts off B in traffic, A is probably thinking "I'm late for work," "I have an important meeting to get to," but B is thinking "A is a bad driver" or "A is a jerk."

One cause of this is obvious: we can observe our own mental states, but we can't observe other peoples'! (There's also an article about "actor-observer symmetry" which is probably relevant, but seems kind of wordy/beyond the scope here.) All we know about other people is what they do. B can't observe the context that might cause A to be distracted, only the end result.

It's also difficult for B to observe the other nonevents happening around them. C, D, E, and a bunch of other people are also on the road, and are not cutting B off! But B probably isn't thinking "wow, what a bunch of good drivers and nice people there are here."

Only I am conscious of all the times I could have acted out and made a scene, but managed to refrain. Because of this, I'm inclined to pat myself on the back: "wow, I'm such a great person, unlike all those jerks." Even if I wanted to not talk about myself, and instead celebrate someone else who did a good job at taking the high road, there's a good chance I'm simply not aware of it, by definition.

(There are lots of cases where people do say "look at me, I did such a good job of not acting out, aren't I great?" This is kind of like saying "I didn't steal the cookies from the cookie jar, do I get a cookie for being good?")

You could also argue that individual degree of difficulty is highly variable here. If last year, X and Y cut people off in traffic 20 and 5 times respectively, but this year, they cut people off in traffic 10 and 4 times respectively, X has made a much more dramatic "improvement" than Y has. But there are still more than twice as many people cussing at X under their breath than there are for Y. And taken too far, this attitude incentivizes never putting forth an effort to start with, so everyone's expectations are calibrated low.

But even without that point, I'm probably guilty of cognitive bias in this regard. I can name and identify the incidents that erode my faith in humanity; I can't pinpoint the non-incidents that restore it, but that doesn't mean they don't exist!
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