Influence of the Fundamental Attribution Error on Perceptions of Blame and Negligence

Exp Psychol. 2021 Jul;68(4):175-188. doi: 10.1027/1618-3169/a000526.


Automobile accidents are a frequent occurrence in the United States and commonly result in legal ramifications. Through a fundamental attribution error (FAE) framework (Ross, 1977), the current research examined how individuals perceive blame and negligence in these cases. In Study 1 (N = 360), we manipulated the driver (you vs. stranger) of a hypothetical accident scenario and the situational circumstances surrounding the accident (favorable vs. unfavorable). Supporting the FAE, individuals' situational blame attributions only varied as a function of situational circumstances when they themselves were hypothetically driving. However, neither the driver nor the situation significantly predicted dispositional blame attributions. Yet, Study 1 provided initial support for the importance of an individual's trait tendency to neglect situational constraints when making dispositional blame attributions. In Study 2 (N = 212), we again manipulated situational circumstances surrounding the hypothetical accident, but within the context of a mock civil trial. Results provided additional support for the importance of this trait tendency and expanded our findings of dispositional blame attributions to perceptions of negligence. Implications include the importance of considering trait individual differences in the likelihood to ignore situational demands when individuals are making legally relevant judgments about automobile accidents.

Keywords: attribution; automobile accident; blame; fundamental attribution error; negligence.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Judgment
  • Malpractice*
  • Social Perception*