What is Fundamental Attribution Error & Self-Serving Bias?

What is Fundamental Attribution Error & Self-Serving Bias?

Faulty Management Perspectives

Fundamental attribution error is best defined as the tendency of a person to overestimate the influence of personal factors and underestimate the influence of situational or environmental factors when assessing an individual’s behavior. In specific, when observing behavior, a supervisor is more likely to assume that a worker’s behavior is primarily caused by the individual and not by the situation. This error causes managers to assume that an employees’ poor performance is due to a lack of ability or effort rather than to task difficulty, luck, or other external factors. The fundamental attribution error, while prominent in North America, is not as common throughout the world. In many other cultures, the fundamental attribution error is the opposite; supervisors assume that workers are more influenced by environment than by internal factors. While one can assume this error to be present in American managers’ perceptions, this may not be the case for managers from other cultures (Trevino, 1999).

Whereas fundamental attribution error tends to overestimate the influence of personal factors when assessing behavior, self-serving bias is the tendency of an individual to attribute positive outcomes with internal factors and negative outcomes with external factors. For example, an employee may attribute a promotion to effort and dedication, thus internal factors of the employee. But in contrast, the same employee may attribute failure to meet a deadline with unreasonable time frames, understaffing, or failure of other team members to work hard (Trevino, 1999).


Trevino, L. K., Weaver, G. R., Gibson, D., G. , & Toffler, B. L. (1999). Managing ethics and legal compliance: What works and what hurts. California Management Review, 41(2), 131 151.

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Triola Vincent. Mon, Mar 15, 2021. What is Fundamental Attribution Error & Self-Serving Bias? Retrieved from

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