Group Attribution Error – A to Z Challenge, Literary Terms

GIt was this time last year when I realized doing just standard Literary terms was a mistake, especially two at once. I had to be clever and utilize other words from other sources that I believed should be Literary Terms. That decision inspired the success for my A to Z Campaign and kept with the spirit I set out to do with this blog. To educate writers.

Today we have Group Attribution Error.

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Group Attribution Error is an attribution bias, similar to Fundamental Attribution Error. Before we can understand Group Attribution Error, we need to take a quick look at Attribution Bias.

Attribution Bias is a cognitive bias that refers to systematic errors people make when they try to find reasons for their, or others, behaviors. People constantly make attributions as a means to explain away behaviors, though such explanations are not always correct.

For example, we might see someone at a bar who clearly is intoxicated and bothering everyone around them. Our first thought might be that they’re an alcoholic, whereas it could just be that he mourning the death of a loved one or celebrating a job promotion.

We are quick to assign internal attributes to people without considering outside forces to be responsible.

This is something that happened to me. When I first joined a BDSM group, I had no practice in socializing. I had a rather strict childhood where I didn’t get many opportunities to be around my friends, and after college I didn’t go out. I never learned how to be social. Thus, my behavior bothered a lot of people and many just assumed I was creepy. Being 30 and acting like this meant that I did this intentionally, when honestly I was ignorant.

It was easier for people to assume that it was just an attribute of who I am, rather than entertain the idea that it was a force beyond my control that caused the difficulties I had.

We all do this, from one degree to another. Essentially, we are casting blame and judgement. Rather than seek an understanding in what is happening, we tie a pretty bow around it and decide if we want to look at it, or put it away and not deal with it.

We see this in the film, ’10 Things I Hate About You’. In the film, Katarina “Kat” Stratford is judged before anyone gets to understand who she truly is. Kat use to be a popular girl and then one day decided to stop and dislike anyone who defined themselves in such a way. As a result, people just think she is a bitch without considering that this attitude stems from the fact that something happened to her to cause her to be like this. To a lesser degree, Patrick Verona is the same, that because he lives by his own rules, people assume he is a criminal of some sort.


How we determine how we interact with someone we judged can be dependent on our emotional reaction. If we get pissed, then we imbue our angry towards them. Others can convince us that our interpretation is wrong and we’d be willing to give a second chance. Interestedly, some attributes we might assign a person can be overlooked in preference to an attraction to someone. We are quick to think this doesn’t happen, but it often does. Which is why the phrase ‘Love is Blind’ is so popular. Our love of someone can blind us.

In How I Met your Mother episode, ‘Spoiler Alert’, Ted thinks he’s found the perfect girl. He loves everything about her, except that his friends doesn’t like her. The gang is surprised that Ted doesn’t see it, but know that if they tell him, he will see it too. Marshall ends up telling Ted (that she talks too much), to which Ted now can’t unsee it. The episode then evolves into the rest of the characters pointing out things that go amiss by the others.

  • Ted reveals to Marshall that Lily chews loudly
  • Robin reveals to Lily that Marshall constantly sings
  • Lily reveals to Robin that Ted corrects people
  • Ted reveals to everyone that Robin constantly uses and misuses “Literally”
  • Everyone reveals a characteristic of Barney to everyone else.

Though, this doesn’t really count for Attribution Bias, as these are actual elements to their personality, but it demonstrates how we can miss things about someone we like, albeit this was a bit over-the-top.

There are occasions where attributes assigned are not based on the actions or appearance of an individual, but rather a projection of an undesirable quality about oneself onto another. They dislike something about themselves and instead paint it on someone else who makes them think of that and simply hate a person for it.

This brings us to Group Attribution error. It’s similar to Fundamental Attribution error, in that we look at someone’s actions, assign as an attributes, and presume it is part of their personality; rather than an outside force acting on them.

With Group Attribution Error, people have a tendency to believe that the characteristics of an individual are reflective of the group they belong to, or, that a decision made by a group is indicative of the preferences of its individual members.

In the movie Toy Story, there is a kid name Sid who likes to tear his toys apart and builds weird toys instead. Woody himself, when encountering these toys believed they were cannibals and would eat him and Buzz. Instead, they helped repair Buzz’s arm. Woody made a generalization based on the toys appearance, rather than consider they are like that as a product of Sid’s doing and not their own.


In the movie Dragonheart, Bowen trains Einon in chivalry. Wanting him to be a better King than his father. When Einon is mortally wounded, his mother pleads for a dragon to help him. A dragon then gives his heart to help Einon, on the promises he is a just man. However, Einon becomes worse than his father as King. Bowen believes that it is the dragon heart that has caused this corruption in Einon, not wanting to believe that is just who Einon was.

Bowen then sets out to kill every dragon, believing them to all be evil. His belief in their being evil because of what he perceived as a corruption of his student is a Group Attribution Error. Namely that he couldn’t accept that Einon was just a bad person, but assigned the fault instead to the one dragon. Even if it was the one dragon who is to blame, assigning that bad attribute to all other dragons was erroneous. This led Bowen to commit genocide (especially since he killed the last dragon, along with most others).


Helping Writers

It is in our nature to judge others. We are taught not to do so, and we shouldn’t be so quick to judge as our perceptions of someone might be wrong. Nonetheless, we judge other. It is something we should work not to do and over time we can learn not to do it.

Worse, we take the actions of one, and apply the things we don’t like about them to a group they may (or may not, but we believe they are) be apart of. Believing they represent the attributes and mentality of one individual. Or that an action of a group is representative of its members.

It’s good to know these elements about yourself. If you do them, you should really stop. But forgive yourself if you end up doing it anyways. We should give people more than just the first impression. We are a biased species and are quick to make judgements.

Characters in your stories might be quick to judgement. Whether they are your main character, a sidekick, or townsfolk. It is not necessarily malicious, just human nature. It is a means of protecting oneself against a perceived nature. Maybe a character hates another for an unfounded reason, based on an attribution bias. Or perhaps a war between nations stems from Group Attribution error.

Help Keep This Site Running

This site is a great achievement for me, but due to being unable to work, I may not be able to keep this site running. With your help, I might be able to.

I need $125 by October 30th, 2017. Anything you can give will help.

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