The Situation of Perceived Intentionality
Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 23, 2010
There are many potential situational factors that can contribute to the fundamental attribution error and the sinister attribution error. Recent research shows that intoxication is among them. Why? Because, much like dispositionist default, people tend automatically to see intention behind others’ behavior and must exert cognitive effort to consider other possibilities. Such an effort is more difficult (and thus less likely) for a mind impaired by intoxication. Here’s the abstract for the recent article in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin summarizing that research.
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The intentionality bias is the tendency for people to view the behavior of others as intentional. This study tests the hypothesis that alcohol magnifies the intentionality bias by disrupting effortful cognitive abilities. Using a 2 × 2 balanced placebo design in a natural field experiment disguised as a food-tasting session, participants received either a high dose of alcohol (target BAC = .10%) or no alcohol, with half of each group believing they had or had not consumed alcohol. Participants then read a series of sentences describing simple actions (e.g., “She cut him off in traffic”) and indicated whether the actions were done intentionally or accidentally. As expected, intoxicated people interpreted more acts as intentional than did sober people. This finding helps explain why alcohol increases aggression. For example, intoxicated people may interpret a harmless bump in a crowded bar as a provocation.
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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” “I’m Objective, You’re Biased,” and “The Sound Situation of Beer Drinkers.”