The Influence of Mood and Perspective on the Fundamental Attribution Error Cem Demir, Tuong-Vy Nguyen, and William Kettler University of California, Los Angeles

PERSPECTIVE. It was expected that subjects would make more dispositional attributions towards the subject that was most visible to them. Taylor and Fiske conducted an experiment which manipulated the perspective of observers. Expanding on the role of informational salience in committing the FAE. subjects made stronger dispositional attributions to the writer of the essay when the essay was unpopular and did so freely (Jones & Harris. Historically. would appear more salient. & . directing observers to attend to the dispositional influences of actors over the situational forces of the environment. It refers to the tendency of individuals to underestimate the influence of situational causes and overestimate the influence of dispositional factors when explaining social events. there is little experimental evidence detailing how the tendency towards the FAE is influenced by the actual psychological state of the observer.MOOD. which in this case is the actor. In one condition. Bower. subjects ignored the situational factor of coercion when the essay was of unpopular opinion and thus of particular salience. The results confirmed this hypothesis with subjects making stronger dispositional attributions for the individual that was more visible to their observations. they hypothesized that what an observer attended to. is one of the most famous principles throughout the history of social psychology. involved subjects being presented with an essay which either advocated a popular (anti-Castro) or unpopular (pro-Castro) opinion. As predicted. also known as the correspondence bias. AND FAE The Influence of Mood and Perspective on the Fundamental Attribution Error The fundamental attribution error (FAE). But if this motivation is impaired. 1967). Observers tend to attend to the most apparent. external causes (Forgas. Early researcher on the FAE. and thus more causally influential. Western culture has placed more emphasis on the individual than society. accessible. It is the intent of this experiment to reverse that general trend. There is irony in that research on the FAE has focused more on situational factors. while in the other condition subjects could see both individuals. Taylor and Fiske reasoned that actors focused on situational factors more because they were acting upon the environment where as observers focused more on the actor because it was central against the environmental background (Taylor & Fiske. than psychological influences towards committing the FAE. 1975). The FAE is believed to be endemic to social judgments based on the mutual influence of cultural and cognitive influences. To test this they had subjects view a conversation between two individuals. It wasn’t until later that mood was integrated into the analysis of the FAE. Based upon this. In effect. Experimental evidence suggested that individuals in positive moods attributed success to stable internal causes while attributed their failure in performance to unstable. subjects could see only one participant. by examining the extent to which mood and perspective influence the incidence of the FAE. Although there is an abundance of experimental literature regarding the FAE. Essays were either written freely or were written under coercion. 1975). while situational factors which require more intensive and systematic analysis are only accounted for secondarily (Taylor & Fiske. Observers correct for situational influences subsequently if motivation to do so is sufficient. But innate cognitive strategies are relevant as well. conducted by Jones and Harris. and easily processed information. then the attention to situational factors may be absent resulting in the FAE. But subjects also made dispositional attributions to the writer even when the essay was written under coercion and especially when the essay expressed an unpopular opinion (Jones & Harris 1967).

AND FAE Moylan. it was predicted that dispositional attributions would be higher for subjects in a positive mood because positive moods induce more automatic and generalized processing in contrast to the careful analysis of subjects in a negative mood (Forgas. The results confirmed these hypotheses suggesting that both mood and informational salience are influential towards committing the FAE and exert and interactive effect. 1990). 1998). 1998). Forgas conducted an experiment to examine the interaction between mood and informational salience and committing the FAE. Based on the evidence previous experiments. PERSPECTIVE. the dispositional attributions of the FAE would be higher in subjects in the unpopular as opposed to popular condition (Forgas. refining the analysis and redirecting it. Integrating this information with the prior work of Jones and Harris. influencing individuals to access and indentify different evidence as causes. and then randomly assigning subjects either above average results or below average results which corresponded to positive or negative moods respectively.MOOD. The success of this induction technique was checked by a postexperimental questionnaire which asked subjects for an emotional response resulting in a positive correlation between performance results and mood (Forgas. Our experiment develops these experimental findings. Forgas assigned subjects to read essays expressing popular or unpopular opinions of current social issues (Forgas. Similar to the prior experiment by Jones and Harris. These papers were also described as being either freely written or coerced into being written. Positive moods inform individuals that they are in a favorable situation and thus can think creatively while negative moods signal a hostile context which requires the individual to respond with critical and vigilant processing of information. 1998). Like the work by Forgas and those prior to him. The functional explanation holds that temporary mood states signal to the individual the state of the environment they are in. The motivational explanation argues that people are motivated to maintain or avoid certain states for reasons intrinsic to the experience itself. subjects were also primed to be in a temporary mood state prior to reading the essays. In contrast negative mood results in systematic and . But uniquely. In contrast. We expect similar results such that positive mood has a higher incidence of the FAE than the condition of negative mood. 1998). Individuals in a positive mood tend towards generic and creative inferences when making causal attributions while negative moods result in critical and systematic analysis. Positive mood states lead individuals to try to maintain their emotions by avoiding the distraction of cognitive effort known as mood maintenance while individuals in a negative mood try to improve their mood by increasing analysis of the environment through mood repair. This was accomplished by having subjects take a verbal ability test. Additionally. These differences in information and processing effects for positive and negative mood can be explained by both functional and motivational reasons. These differences highlight the informational effects mood has on attributions.. our experiment manipulates temporary mood states of positive or negative emotion to examine their influence on the FAE. This hypothesis is justified on the grounds that positive mood induces automatic and generalized processing of information and motivates subjects to avoid cognitive effort to maintain the mood state. Forgas predicted that dispositional attributions would be highest when the essay was unpopular. whether or not it was in fact written freely because unpopular essays would defy expectations and thus be more salient to subjects (Forgas. Combining these two expectations resulted in the third hypothesis that mood and informational salience would interact so that when mood was positive. But mood also has processing effects on how individuals process information itself. 1998). 1990). individuals in negative moods made stable internal causes for failure and unstable external attributions for their successes (Forgas et al.

Subjects in the involved condition will be immediately affected by the event described and will attend to the disposition of the actor while subjects in the observed condition will be able to attend to the overall context and take situational factors into consideration. we expect and interaction between mood states and the salience of perspective so that when subjects are in a positive mood. Situational . The second independent variable is situational perspective. the FAE will be higher for those in the involved condition rather than the observed condition. This would aid in explaining how individuals can examine the same situation and reach different conclusions of attribution. The intent of this new experimental direction is to provide additional information on the FAE on psychological influences. This variable represented the perspective that subjects read the causally-ambiguous situation in the passage from. AND FAE critical analysis of information and motivates the subject the engage in cognitive effort to alter their mood state. The ages of participants ranged from 19 to 29 years of age approximately. our experiment involves a conceptual manipulation where subjects read a passage from different perspectives of someone involved in a situation or merely observing it. Los Angeles. Participants were compensated in the form of points towards the project and their overall course grade. Thirteen of the participants were female and the remaining four participants were male. Similar to Taylor and Fiske. Mood induction represented the mood subjects were inducted into after reading a mood-biased passage. the perspective is manipulated in a manner similar to that in the experiment conducted by Taylor and Fiske. But our experiment is not a replication of the work by Forgas and does not pair the manipulation of mood with the manipulation of informational salience in terms of popularity or unpopularity. All participants were undergraduate Psychology students and were acquired through a research methods pre-requisite course in the Psychology major program. But rather than a visual manipulation. we expect a variation of what is attended to in the passage based upon the perspective of the subject. Instead. Mood induction possessed two conditional levels: positive mood and negative mood. while in our experiment we intend to keep this information relatively constant while simply manipulating the perspective the subject is able to interpret the information from. Thus each student participated in each of the four combinational conditions of the experiment. The first independent variable was mood induction. Method Participants Sixteen participants were recruited from the University of California. When in the positive mood condition. PERSPECTIVE. Additionally.MOOD. Each student participated as a part of a final experimental design project that was part of the course. Previous experiments manipulated the tendency of the FAE by altering the information or environment of the subject. Design The experiment was of two-by-two design and was conducted according to a withinsubject design. subjects read a passage intended to arouse a consoling emotional reaction in the subject where as subjects in the negative mood condition read a passage expected to elicit a disturbing emotional response.

the highest possible response. However. The situational involvement condition required subjects to read the passage from the perspective of an individual directly affected by the events described. The dependent variable of the experiment was the degree to which subjects committed the FAE. letter and number to distinguish it from other possible combinations of passages. Letter denoted which subject within each group the passage belonged to.MOOD. represents a dispositional attribution. Because the experiment was a two-by-two factorial design and thus contained four conditions. subjects who were in the situational observation condition read the same scenario from the perspective of someone indirectly observing the situation without having personal involvement in it. This variable was ethnicity and possessed four different conditional levels: Caucasian. In its path is an engineering crew repairing the track system and who cannot be signaled in time. The tendency to commit the FAE was measured according to the responses of subjects along a seven-point bi-polar Likert scale. In addition. an extraneous variable was integrated into the experiment to mislead subjects away from identifying the actual independent variables across conditions. The experiment was counter-balanced according to a Latin-square design so that equal numbers of subjects were randomly assigned to different orders of the conditions. there were sixteen possible passages in all. All passages followed a universal format that contained variation only when relevant to the manipulation of the independent variables of mood induction and situational perspective and the extraneous variable of ethnicity. In contrast. The scenario describes a train carrying passengers down a track as its break system malfunctions preventing it from losing momentum. These variables were counter-balanced as well so as to eliminate any confounding variables they may introduce. Each passage was assigned a different color. represents a situational attribution while a value of seven. Four passages based upon combinations of the two independent variables of mood induction and situational involvement that each varied along with the four levels of the confounding variable of ethnicity for a total of sixteen possible passage combinations. A worker in the control station can flip a switch that will send the train down an alternative route. the Latinsquare design dictated that these four conditions be arranged in four different orders. PERSPECTIVE. each with a different combination of the independent variables. emphasizing what they believed was the more causally significant factor in explaining the event described in the passage. The track system has not yet been repaired and it . A value of one. Latino. Asian. Number denoted which combination of variables the passage contained in the series of conditions each subject within each group was to receive. Subjects responded along the Likert scale. given the nature of counter-balancing procedure. the lowest possible response. AND FAE perspective also had two conditional levels: situational involvement and situational observation. Because the experiment was of two-by-two design with a confounding variable of four levels and was counter-balanced using the Latin-square technique. Materials and Apparatus Experimental materials consisted of passages followed by brief questionnaires. subjects would receive only four of these possible passages. Thus the number of conditional orders was equal to the number of total conditions. Color denoted which of the four groups the passage belonged to. and African American. All passages described a causally-ambiguous scenario. Each subject received a passage for each level of the confounding variable of ethnicity.

All passages were followed by a brief questionnaire which asked the subject two questions. In the negative mood condition. The independent variable of perspective varied according to the perspective the reader read the passage from. . they may have made compensational adjustments to their innate bias towards dispositional attributions. Once the debriefing had finished. Subjects were asked whether the event described in the passage was due to situational or dispositional factors which they were supposed to a value along the continuum of the Likert scale provided. AND FAE will cause the train to crash but will save the lives of the engineering crew. experimenters randomly distributed the combination of passages and questionnaires to each student around the room. the train derailed but everyone survived the incident. If subjects provided a reaction consistent with the mood induction condition they were assigned. Procedure The experiment began once all students had entered the room and sat down. experimenters collected the prior questionnaire and distributed the subsequent passage and questionnaire for each subject. letter and number combinations such that subjects received a subsequent passage and questionnaire of the same color and letter as their previous individual passage and questionnaire combination. altered the ethnicity of the control room worker who changed the course of the train. In some passages the worker was Caucasian. Were participants to know that the actual intent of the study was to study the effects of mood and perspective on the FAE. subjects read the same events but from the perspective of a bystander watching from the train station. In the positive mood condition. causing the train to adjust tracks. The worker reacts and flips the switch. Subjects were asked whether they would describe the passage as eliciting a positive or negative emotional reaction. save for the engineers in the original path of the train. The second question on the questionnaire was a measure of the dependent variable on the Likert scale. All subjects received passages of the same number following the previous number to ensure the proper order of conditions. The independent variable of mood induction varied according to the consequence of the train crashing. The third false variable. subjects read the passage from the perspective of one of the rail-road workers in the path of the train. This was a false description of the intent of the study. Subjects were given time to read each passage and answer the questionnaire. When it was apparent that all subjects had completed the first questionnaire. sending it down the damaged route. PERSPECTIVE. and in still others the worker was African American. ethnicity. In the involved condition. then this consistency would justify the effectiveness of the mood induction technique. the train derailed from the tracks and there were no survivors from the accident. The first question was a check on the effectiveness of the mood induction. They were then debriefed as a group that they would be involved in an experimental study on possible effect of ethnicity and mood on attributions of responsibility for events. in others Asian or Latino. thus introducing confounding variables.MOOD. In the observed condition. This process repeated until all subjects had completed all four conditions and answered the corresponding questionnaires. Subsequent passages and questionnaires were distributed on the basis of their color.

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