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What is Correspondence Bias – Causes & Examples 

Published by at August 17th, 2023 , Revised On October 5, 2023

In social psychology, there is a fascinating concept known as ‘Correspondence Bias’, also widely known as the ‘Fundamental Attribution Error’. It is a research bias that plays a significant role in how we interpret and respond to the behaviour of others. 

But what does this term mean, and how does it affect our daily interactions? Let’s discuss this concept in detail. 

What is Correspondence Bias?

Correspondence bias is a pervasive and influential concept in social psychology. It represents a cognitive bias where individuals undervalue situational influences and overestimate personal characteristics when analysing others’ behaviour. This phenomenon can be contrasted with the actor-observer bias, where individuals attribute their actions to situational factors and others’ actions more to inherent nature. 

Moreover, we tend to attribute others’ actions more to their inherent nature and less to their circumstances. 

For example, suppose someone cuts you off in traffic. In that case, your immediate reaction might be that the person is inconsiderate or aggressive rather than considering external factors, like they may be rushing to an emergency.

This might also be due to a bias for action, where we favour taking action over inaction based on limited information.

Understanding correspondence bias is crucial, as it significantly affects our judgments about others and can lead to misinterpretations and miscommunications. It can impact numerous aspects of our lives, from personal relationships to professional interactions, and it can even influence legal and political systems. For example, suppose we do not consider the ceiling effect, where the observed variable is limited because it is near its maximum potential. In that case, we might attribute an individual’s behaviour solely to their personality.

What are the Causes of Correspondence Bias

Correspondence bias arises from a complex interplay of cognitive and perceptual processes.

Cognitive Economy

First, our mind seeks simple explanations, a phenomenon known as cognitive economy. Attributing behaviour to inherent personality traits is often simpler and quicker than considering the diverse external factors that might influence actions. 

Pygmalion Effect

Additionally, the Pygmalion effect might be at play, where higher expectations lead to increased performance. For instance, if we believe someone is inherently good, we might overlook situational factors when they make a mistake, thinking it’s an anomaly.


Second, correspondence bias is a by-product of perspective-taking failures. When observing others, we have limited access to their situational contexts, but when evaluating our behaviour, we are fully aware of the external influences shaping our actions. This discrepancy often leads to a bias in attribution.


Furthermore, cultural background plays a significant role. Western cultures, with their emphasis on individualism, foster correspondence bias more than Eastern cultures, where the focus is more on collectivism and contextual understanding.


Lastly, the saliency and vividness of people rather than situations also contribute. People are psychologically more prominent and easier to focus on than abstract circumstances or environmental factors.

Real-Life Examples of Correspondence Bias

Real-life examples can be pulled from a primary source, like a first-hand account or a scholarly source, like a peer-reviewed article. Secondary sources, such as reviews or summaries, can also provide insight.

Correspondence Bias Example 1

Suppose an employee fails to meet a deadline in the workplace. In that case, a manager might hastily attribute it to their lack of discipline or competence, ignoring possible situational factors like inadequate resources, lack of support, or unexpected family emergencies.

Correspondence Bias Example 2

Teachers might attribute students’ poor performance to laziness or lack of intelligence in schools rather than considering factors like inadequate teaching methods, a noisy classroom environment, or problems at home.

Correspondence Bias Example 3

In the judicial system, jurors might attribute a defendant’s criminal behaviour solely to their character and overlook situational factors such as societal pressures, economic conditions, or upbringing.

Correspondence Bias Example 4

In interpersonal relationships, one might blame a friend’s tardiness on disregarding others’ time without considering possible reasons like traffic, work-related delays, or childcare issues.

Consequences of Correspondence Bias

Correspondence bias can have wide-ranging impacts. It can lead to unfair judgments, stereotyping, and discrimination. For example, it can cause negative assumptions about groups of people based on the behaviour of a single individual. This can foster hostility and social divisions and can be damaging in various contexts, including schools, workplaces, and communities.

Additionally, confirmation bias, where people search for, interpret, or remember information in a way that confirms their beliefs, can further deepen these misjudgments.

Publication bias, where positive outcomes are more likely to be published than negative ones, can skew our understanding of behaviours and situations. This makes it essential to use a source evaluation method to assess the credibility of the information.

Correspondent bias can obstruct effective team collaboration and impede optimal decision-making in professional settings. Leaders who do not recognise the role of situational factors in employee performance may fail to provide necessary resources or support, which can lead to decreased productivity and morale.

In legal contexts, correspondence bias can contribute to unjust outcomes. If jurors are more likely to attribute criminal behaviour to a defendant’s character than situational factors, it can lead to harsher punishments.

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How to Avoid Correspondence Bias

Avoiding correspondence bias involves developing greater awareness of it and employing strategies to counteract it. Here are some strategies:


Awareness of correspondence bias is the first step in mitigating it. Educate yourself about this cognitive bias and make a conscious effort to consider situational factors when evaluating others’ behaviour.


Make an effort to see situations from other people’s perspectives. This can help identify external factors influencing their behaviour that you might not have considered initially.

Seek Additional Information

Before making judgments, seek more information about the context of the behaviour. This might involve asking questions or conducting further research.

Practice Empathy and Compassion

Understanding that everyone faces unique challenges can help attribute actions to situations rather than personal traits.

Cultivate a Culture of Understanding

In group settings, encourage others to be mindful of correspondence bias and promote a culture of understanding and empathy.


Correspondence bias is a cognitive bias with profound implications for our perceptions and interactions with others. By attributing behaviour to personal traits while downplaying situational factors, we risk forming inaccurate judgments and fostering misunderstanding and unfairness. Understanding and recognising this bias and other research biases like selection bias is important. 

By cultivating awareness, empathy, and a willingness to explore different perspectives, we can help mitigate the impact of correspondence bias and foster more fair, accurate, and compassionate understandings of one another.

Frequently Asked Questions

Correspondence bias, also known as the fundamental attribution error, refers to the tendency to attribute others’ behaviours to internal characteristics, like personality, rather than external situational factors.

This means we often underestimate situational influences and overestimate personal dispositions when judging others’ actions.

Correspondence bias is typically measured using experimental designs where participants observe or read about others’ behaviours in specific situations. Participants then attribute the behaviour to either situational or dispositional factors.

The extent to which they favour dispositional attributions over situational ones indicates the presence and degree of the bias.

Everyone is susceptible to correspondence bias, a fundamental human cognitive tendency. However, factors like cultural background, cognitive load, or lack of information can exacerbate it.

For example, Western cultures, emphasising individualism, might be more prone than collectivist cultures, which often consider situational factors in understanding behaviour.

Another term for correspondence bias is the “fundamental attribution error.” It refers to the cognitive bias where individuals overemphasise personal traits and underemphasise situational factors when explaining others’ behaviours.

Both terms highlight our inclination to attribute behaviours to inherent characteristics rather than external circumstances.

Correspondence bias arises from cognitive shortcuts our brains use to process information efficiently. Observing behaviour is easier than deducing situational factors, leading us to favour dispositional attributions.

Additionally, our inherent focus on individuals rather than contexts and cultural norms emphasising individualism can further reinforce this bias in our judgments.

In politics, correspondence bias refers to the tendency of people to attribute a politician’s actions or decisions more to their personal characteristics and beliefs than to external situational factors.

For example, a leader’s policy might be seen as stemming from their inherent ideology rather than as a response to situational pressures or constraints.

When someone steals food, correspondence bias in the context of free will would be to label the person as inherently immoral or greedy immediately. However, external factors like extreme hunger or poverty might have influenced the act. The bias leads us to overemphasise personal choice and downplay situational pressures.

About Owen Ingram

Avatar for Owen IngramIngram is a dissertation specialist. He has a master's degree in data sciences. His research work aims to compare the various types of research methods used among academicians and researchers.