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Chapter

  • In the pages that follow we review the evidence showing that there is little support for the view that people utilize consensus information in making attributions. This evidence concerns both instances where the actor is another person and instances, drawn primarily from our own research, where the actor is the self. We then show the similarity between the failure of consensus information to affect attributions and the demonstration by Kahneman and Tversky that base-rate information fails to affect predictions. We propose explanations for both failures in terms of the relative impact of abstract information versus concrete information. Finally, we apply the distinction between abstract and concrete information to questions of communication and persuasion.

  • The present paper is concerned with the role of causal reasoning in judgments under uncertainty and with some biases that are associated with this mode of thinking.

  • Attribution theory, in its broadest sense, is concerned with the attempts of ordinary people to understand the causes and implications of the events they witness. It deals with the "naive psychology" of people as they interpret their own behavior and the actions of others. The current ascendancy of attribution theory in social psychology thus culminates a long struggle to upgrade that discipline's conception of man. No longer the stimulus-response (S-R) automation of radical behaviorism, promoted beyond the rank of information processor and cognitive consistency seeker, psychological man has at last been awarded a status equal to that of the scientist who investigates him. For in the perspective of attribution theory, people are intuitive psychologists who seek to explain behavior and to draw inferences about actors and about their social environments. The intuitive scientist's ability to master his social environment, accordingly, will depend upon the accuracy and adequacy of his hypotheses, evidence, and analyses. Conversely, any systematic errors in existing theories, biases in available data, or inadequacies in methods of analysis, yield serious consequences - both for the lay psychologist and for the society that he builds and perpetuates. These shortcomings, explored from the vantage point of contemporary attribution theory, provide the focus of this chapter.

  • Although procedural variables have a considerable effect, the present chapter is confined to the discussion of evidential variables that control the interpretation and the impact of the base-rate data. Specifically, we focus on the distinction between two types of base rates, which we label causal and incidental.

  • We propose that when faced with the difficult task of judging probability or frequency, people employ a limited number of heuristics which reduce these judgments to simpler ones. Elsewhere we have analyzed in detail one such heuristic - representativeness. By this heuristic, an event is judged probable to the extent that it represents the essential features of its parent population or generating process...

  • The purpose of the current research was to assess whether egocentric perceptions do occur in a variety of settings and to examine associated psychological processes.

  • Every day the social perceiver makes numerous, apparently complex social judgments - Predicting another's behavior, attributing responsibility, categorizing an individual, evaluating anothers, estimating the power or influence of a person, or attributing causality. A central task of social psychology has been to determine how the social perceiver makes these judgments. Until recently, research on this topic was marked by a rationalistic bias, the assumption that judgments are made using thorough, optimal strategies (see, for example, Fischhoff, 1976, for discussion of this point). Errors in judgment were attributed to two sources: (a) accidental errors due to problems with information of which the perceiver was presumably unaware; and (b) errors which resulted from the irrational motives and needs of the perceiver. However, over a period of years, a growing body of evidence suggested not only that people's judgments and decisions are less complete and rational than was thought but that not all errors can be traced to motivational factors. Even in the absence of motives, judgments are often made on the basis of scant data, which are seemingly haphazardly combined and influenced by preconceptions (see, e.g., Dawes, 1976). These findings led to a revised view of the cognitive system. People came to be seen as capacity-limited, capable of dealing with only a small amount of data at a time. Rather than being viewed as a naive scientist who optimizes, the person was said to "satisfice" (Simon, 1957) and use shortcuts that would produce decisions and judgments efficiently and accurately.

  • We shall argue that assessments of propensity and probability derived from mental simulations are used in several tasks of judgment and also that they play a significant role in several affective states. We first list some judgmental activities in which mental simulation appears to be involved. We then describe a study of the cognitive rules that govern the mental undoing of past events, and we briefly discuss the implications of these rules for emotions that arise when reality is compared with a favored alternative, which one had failed to reach but could easily imagine reaching. We conclude this brief sketch of the simulation heuristic by some remarks on scenarios, and on the biases that are likely to arise when this heuristic is used.

  • The flow of social experience frequently challenges us to recognize empirical covariations. Sometimes, these covariations are merely another test of our powers of observation and are of no immediate practical concern to us. At other times - for example, when those covariations involve early symptoms of problems and late manifestations, or behavioral strategies employed and outcomes obtained, or relatively overt characteristics of people or situations and relatively covert ones - such detection abilities may help to determine our success in adapting to the demands of everyday social life. More generally, covariation detection will play a large role in our continuing struggle as "intuitive scientists" (see Nisbett & Ross, 1980; Ross, 1977, 1978) to evaluate and update the hypotheses we hold about ourselves, our peers, and our society. An obvious question therefore presents itself: How proficient are we, as laypeople, at assessing the empirical covariations presented by experiential evidence.

  • The approach presented here is based on the following general notions about forecasting. First, that most predictions and forecasts contain an irreducible intuitive component. Second, that the intuitive predictions of knowledgeable individuals contain much useful information. Third, that these intuitive judgments are often biased in a predictable manner. Hence, the problem is not whether to accept intuitive predictions at face value or to reject them, but rather how they can be debiased and improved.

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