Motivation: Characteristics and Importance of Motivation

Motivation is derived from the Latin word movere, which means "to move". It is derived from the word "motive". Motive is the inner state of our mind that activates and directs our behavior or implies action to satisfy a need. It makes us move to act. It is always internal to us and is externalized via behavior. Motivation is one's willingness to exert efforts towards the accomplishment of his/ her goal.

Motivation is the psychological process of creating willingness to work and cooperate for the achievement of organizational goal. Hence, motivation is an inner state that energizes, activates and directs behavior towards achieving organizational goals. So, motivation always helps the people to work effectively and efficiently to achieve the goal. A man can be physically, mentally and technically fit to work but he may not be willing to work. At such situation, motivating an employee is to create a need and a desire on the part of an employee to make him better present performance. Thus, performance is determined by two factors: level of a ability or capability to do certain work and level of motivation. It can be expressed as follows:

Performance = Ability x Motivation

Characteristics of Motivation 

Motivation is a theoretical construct used to explain behavior. It represents the reasons for people’s actions, desires, and needs. Motivation can also be defined as one’s direction to behavior or what causes a person to want to repeat a behavior and vice versa. Motivation has following special characteristics.
Characteristics of Motivation

1. Continuous Process
Motivation is a continuous or never ending process. It is so because human needs, desires, wants or wishes are endless. All of them can never be satisfied simultaneously. Satisfaction of one need, gives size to another need. Therefore, motivation process goes on forever.

2. System-oriented
Motivation is system-oriented. It is the system that contains three main factors:
  • Factors operating within an individual i.e. his needs, aspirations, wants, wishes, values etc.
  • Factors operating within the organization such as organization structure, technology, physical facilities, work environment etc.
  • Factors operating in external environment such as custom, norms of society, culture etc. Motivation is the result of interaction among these factors.

3. Need-satisfying Process
Motivation is a need satisfying process. An unsatisfied need creates tension that stimulates drives within an individual. These drives generate a search behavior to find particular goals that will satisfy the need and reduce tension.

4. Dynamic Process
Motivation is a dynamic and complex process. It is so because it is related to human behavior which is never static but dynamic. It keeps on changing continuously.

5. Motivation is Internal Feeling
Motivation is internal feeling of an individual. It points out the energizing forces within an individual that direct or influence him to behave in a particular way.

6. A Psychological Concept
The concept of motivation is mainly psychological. It relates to those forces operating within the individual employee which impels him to act or not to act in certain ways.

7. Energizing Force
Motivation is the process that energizes or encourages individuals to put in effort to achieve organizational goals and to satisfy their needs.

8. Willingness to Exert Effort
Motivation is the willingness of an individual to exert effort in the pursuit of organizational goals and to satisfy some individual needs.

Importance of Motivation

Motivation is regarded as one of the most important functions of management. Importance of motivation can be hardly being overemphasized. Highly motivated people can make things happen in organization. The importance of motivation is summarized in the following points.
Importance of Motivation

1. Positive Feeling of Employees
Effective motivation system inspires employees to do work or to take action. It prepares them to do their work with full devotion. It creates willingness among the employee to perform their work with great enthusiasm, zeal and loyalty.

2. Higher Performance
Highly motivated employees perform better and higher as compared to the employees with low level of motivation. Motivation is the mainspring of performance. Without motivation, the other contributors to performance become rather irrelevant.

3. High Productivity
Motivation increases the productivity of the employees. It utilizes the ability, potentiality, efficiency etc. of the employees. Once the employees are motivated, they do the work heartedly. And this ultimately increases the productivity of the employees and organization.

4. Change of Behavior
It is a research based fact that properly motivated employees are more receptive to new things and ready to accept change. This attitude facilitates to introduce change and keep the organization on the path of progress.

5. Acceptance of Change
Change is the most for organizational and personal development. Through motivation, one can bring change in the resistivity to change behavior of the employees. This helps in accepting the organizational change. Therefore, motivation is important to accept the organizational change.

6. Better Employee Relation
A good motivation system creates congenial work environment and job satisfaction. Employees tend to work with cooperative spirit and in a disciplined manner. Management also offers them better wages and incentives. Hence, chances of conflict are greatly reduced. All this leads to better employee relations.

7. Satisfied Human Resource
A sound motivation system ensures proper supply of motivated human resource. Such a system in an organization can also ensure the satisfaction of needs and aspirations of individuals. Thus, it can attract and retain satisfied human resource in the organization.

8. Effective Utilization of Resources
Motivation helps in utilizing the resources. The motivated employees never let the resources go for wastage. They utilize the resources in an optimum way. They always work hard for the betterment of the organizational development and try to give maximum satisfaction from the minimum resources.

9. Reduction on Absenteeism and Employee Turnover
When the employees are motivated, they are much satisfied with the organization. Because of this, there is low absenteeism and turnover. They stay in the organization for the longer time. When organizations do not do any activities for motivation, then there is high turnover and absenteeism. This high absenteeism and turnover create problems which do not help in realizing the goal of an organization.

10. Boosts Morale
Morale refers to the attitude and feelings of employees about their work and work situation. Through motivation, employee attitudes and feelings towards work can be improved. This in turn boosts employee morale.

Linking an Individual’s Personality and Values to the Workplace

There is a kind of relationship exists between individual’s personality with value and their job performance in the workplace. High personality on values has high performance in the job. It means there is positive relationship exists between them. The managers concern is more towards how to match the personality and values and jobs so that both organization and employees will be relatively benefited. The relationship between personality and job is first explain by John Holland offering Personality-Job Fit Theory and is the Person-Organization Fit Theory. 

1. Personality Job Fit Theory 

John Holland present six personality types and proposes that satisfaction and propensity to leave a job depend on how well individuals match their personalities to a job. The following table describes the six types, their personality characteristics, and examples of the congruent occupation for each. 

Holland Idea of Personality and Congruent (Matching) Occupations
Personality Characteristics
Congruent Occupations
Prefer physical activities that require skill, strength and coordination.
Shy, genuine, persistent, stable, conforming, practical
Mechanic, drill press operator, assembly-line worker, farmer.
Prefers activities that involve thinking, organizing and understanding.
Analytical, original, curious, independent.
Biologist, economist, mathematician, news reporter.
Prefer activities that involve helping and developing others.
Sociable, friendly, cooperative, understanding.
Social worker, teacher, counselor, clinical psychologist.
Prefers rule-regulated, orderly, and unambiguous activities.
Conforming, efficient, practical, unimaginative, and inflexible.
Accountant, corporate manager, bank teller, file clerk.
Prefers verbal activities in which there are opportunities to influence others and attain power.
Self-confident, ambitious, energetic, domineering.
Lawyer, real estate agent, public relations specialist, business manager.
Prefers ambiguous and unsystematic activities that allow creative expression.
Imaginative, disorderly, idealistic, emotional, impractical.
Painter, musician, writer, interior decorator.

According to the theory of Holland, satisfaction is highest and turnover is lowest when personality and occupation are on agreement. A realistic person in a realistic job is in a more congruent situation than a realistic person in an investigative job. A realistic person in a social job is in the most in-congruent situation possible. The key points of this model are that
  • There do appear to be intrinsic differences in personality among individuals.
  • There are different types of jobs, and
  • People in jobs congruent with their personality should be more satisfied and less likely to voluntarily resign than people in in-congruent jobs.

2. Person-Organization Fit Theory

According to this theory, if an organization faces a dynamic and changing environment and requires employees who are able to do readily change tasks and move easily between teams, it’s more important that employees’ personalities fit with the overall organization’s culture than with the characteristics of any specific job.

The person-organization fit essentially argues that people are attracted to and selected by organizations that match their values, and they leave organizations that are not compatible with their personalities. Moreover, managers could expect that people high on extra-version fit well with aggressive and team-oriented cultures and that people high on agreeableness match up better with a supportive organizational climate than one focuses on aggressiveness. And people high on openness to experience fit better into organizations that emphasize innovation rather than standardization. Following these guidelines, at the time of hiring, manager should lead to select new employee who fit better with the organization’s culture, which should result in higher employee satisfaction and reduction turnover. Research on person-organization fit has also looked whether people’s values match the organization’s culture or not this match predicts job satisfaction, commitment to the organization, and low turnover. (Robbins, S.P. et. Al. (2012).

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Perceptual Errors

People make countless perceptual errors everyday. These errors are: 

1. Selective Perception

People selectively interprets what they see on the basis of their interest, background, experience and attitudes. Such bias can exist in the decision making field because of his/her wrong interest or attitudes and they are following the principles of “we perceive what we like to perceive.” 

We are constantly bombarded much with sensory information that it is impossible for us to pay attention for everything. Our subconscious mind scans our environment and selects what it seems easy to notice. Even then, people not see things the way they are, they also tend to see what they expect to see, as well as what they want to see. 

When we perceive situation that looks familiar to us, our past experience often cause us to see the vent in terms of what we expect. Out limits spans of attention leads us to categorize things by aspects that appear similar to what we already know, and we save time and energy in assuming that the current situation is comparable to previous experience. 

We not only tend to see what we expect, but we are also susceptible to seeing things the way we want them to be. For example, most people believe they are above average in intelligence as we are highly skilled drivers, because we want to believe flattering things about ourselves. When considering information, we have gathered, fail to support our preferences. People who are heavily committed to a given position allow the weight of their beliefs to influence how a situation is perceived. Employees who are strongly in favor of one side of a controversial work issue will actually perceive a meeting called to discuss possible options in a fundamentally different way than employees in the opposite camp. 

We are extremely willing to take the credit for our successes and we blame our failures on external circumstances beyond our control. When a sports team wins sport, it is because of hard work and talents of team members. When they lose, it is due to bad officiating, weather conditions, lack of fan support, and so on. And students who perform well on a test do so because they understand the material, are knowledgeable, or possibly because they are gifted test takers. However, those who perform poorly on the very same test accuse the professor of testing uncovered materials, offering poorly worded questions, or applying unfair grading practices. We perceive internal cause for desirable outcomes and external interference for unfavorable consequences. 

Corrective Procedures 
  • Take multiple perspectives 
  • Be aware of our expectations beforehand. 
  • Strive for objectivity. 
  • Ask how an impartial outside would view the situation. 
  • Be honest in our assessments of why we feel the way we do towards a person or event. 

2. Impression Effect/ Halo Effect 

This is the process of evaluating an individual performance based on his / her single characteristic. Such a biases is also called halo effect. The halo effect occurs when we believe a single characteristic possessed by someone is associated with a host of other desirable traits. For example, most attractive people are also believed to be smarter, warm people are rated as sociable and humorous and intelligent people are rated as better leaders. Just on the basis of individual attribute he or she will be evaluated favorably or unfavorably. This type of error has generally been seen at the time of employee selection and evaluating performance of employees in our organization. Such impression effect distorts decision making capacity of a manager by limiting evaluation of employees to a single characteristics. 

Even before knowing any of the important features, people start having impressions and judge there by. This sometimes leads to wrong decisions when initial impressions are believed to be more relevant and important in rendering a decision than later impressions. This leads to the impression effects causing judgmental biases. Such bias is based on the principle of “first impression is the last one.” 

Our first impressions are intuitive. Our always working subconscious processes have detected something about the person that triggers an emotional reaction resulting in feeling of like or dislike. A primary effect occurs when initial impressions are believed to be more relevant and important in rendering a decision than later impressions. Consistent evidence has been found to indicate that first impressions often are lasting ones, demonstrating that the sage advice mothers give their children “to be sure and make a good first impression” has merit. However, first impressions can also be misleading. Some attributes (such as attractiveness or high energy levels) often lead us to believe that people possessing such desirable qualities must have other positive dimensions as well. 

The primary effect can occur when decision makers evaluate situations as well as people. When we are exposed to opposite sides of a controversial issue, the first presentation can carry more weight than subsequent presentations. 

When evaluating resumes for potential new employees, interviewers tend to focus on one or two bits of information and make their initial impressions. When candidates are interviewed, those with favorable first impressions and stronger halo expectations are treated more pleasantly and tapped for confirming information by interviews, rather than being treated without bias. 

Corrective Procedures 
  • Take multiple perspectives 
  • Force ourselves to consider events before and after the ones that readily come to mind. 
  • Play devil’s advocate to uncover the justification for what we believe. 

3. Perceptual Defense 

People often screen out perceptual stimuli that make them uncomfortable and dissatisfying. People have certain inherent tendencies to defend their reactions against new information which would be conflicting with their existing impressions. Perceptual defense is performed by: 

a) Denying the existence or importance of conflicting information. 
b) Distorting the new information to match the old. 
c) Acknowledging the existence of new information but treating it as a non-representative exception. 

People generally build defenses against stimuli or events that are either personally or culturally unacceptable or threatening. From the view point of the organizations, perceptual defense plays an influential role in understanding superior-subordinate relationship. 

4. Stereotyping/ Categorization Effect 

Stereotyping is judging someone on the basis of one’s perception of the group to which that person belongs. It can be also called stereotyping bias or availability bias. It involves how information is stored and assessed in our minds. Representativeness occurs when we perceive information as typical or representative of the class to which we have categorized it, regression to the mean happens when we tend to ignore that fact that extreme events are likely to be more average the next they occur, and availability occurs when we are more likely to recall a memory due to its vividness or ease of retrieval from our minds and assume that the information is more typical or likely because it is easily imagined. 

Corrective Procedures 
  • Take multiple perspectives. 
  • Examine assumptions to see if categorization may have biased our though processes. 
  • Support data retrieved from memory with hard facts. 
  • Separate seemingly related items to uncover the source of their connectivity. 
  • Be aware that random events occur and that we seek patterns where none may exist. 
  • Recognize that coincidence does happen. 

5. Project / Presentation Effect 

It is easy to judge others if they assume that they are similar to us. For instance, if we want challenge and responsibility in our job, we assume that others want the same. The tendency to attribute one’s own characteristics to other people is called as project. When managers are engaged in project, they compromise their ability to respond to individual differences. They tend to see people more homogeneous than they really are. 

Presentation effects occur when we receive information influences how we decide. We often use an initial value as a starting point to our assessments and adjust from the beginning to achieve a final decision. It is mainly caused due to limited short term information processing capacity of the human mind. In other words, the limited short-term information processing capacity of the human mind leads decisions makers to focus on the most important aspects of a situation to solve a problem. Research indicates that even outrageously extreme anchors can unknowingly sway our judgments. 

Moreover, how information is presented to us can also influence the way we use it to make decisions. The tendency for decision makers to anchor from an initial starting point can influence our judgment. 

During job interviews, it is common practice for the interviewer to ask perspective hires the salary range they anticipate for the job. Interviewees who offer an amount, especially one that is too low, may allow themselves to fall victim to anchoring. The interviewer is likely to anchor on the given figure and adjust upward or downward only slightly, narrowing the salary range under consideration. Anchoring effects suggest that during the interview process, we are better served by responding with a less concrete answer that allows the salary range to be flexible. 

When information becomes an anchor, we adjust insufficiently from that amount when making decisions. This is why persuasive arguments can sometimes be very successful if they present extreme initial views. Often, we are not even aware that an anchor value has been allowed to sway our judgment. Because of their pervasiveness, presentation effects can have a significant impact on business decisions. 

Corrective Procedures 
  • Take multiple perspectives. 
  • Attempt to consider the problem before presentation information is provided. 
  • Be prepared with enough information to minimize presentation effect. 
  • Be aware of how our presentation of the problem may bias the opinions of others. 
  • Seek out other opinions and perspectives, especially from those not too close to the problem. 
  • Consider best, worst, and most likely scenarios. 

6. Perceptual Change 

In perception, is a transaction between the individual and the outside world in order that reality may become predictable? What are the conditions under which perceptual changes occur? Is a mere rational logical or intellectual understanding of one’s own perceptual tendencies or situations enough to bring about perceptual change? The answer is, No. The prime condition for perceptual change is frustration. When faced with frustration, a person is ready to change his perception. Research in the field of opinion and attitude change, has demonstrated this fact beyond doubt. People, working in a distorted room, continued to believe that the room was square (as most rooms are) until it became impossible for them to achieve their objectives with the faulty perception. Only then they were able to see that the room was distorted. 

Another condition for perceptual change is the desire, willingness and determination to bring about such a change. As John Power said, “Perceptual change comes through awareness of one’s perceptions and perceptual framework.” This is possible only when there is willingness, desire and determination. Some other thinkers point out that, in some situations, determination may have negative effects. They advocated observation of self, processes as they occur, accompanied by purpose, analysis and interpretation. The very act of observation, they assert, breaks the influences of the past operating on perceptual processes, and frees it of all sources of possible distortions. 

7. Framing Effects 

Framing effects occur when decision makers tend to avoid risk or when problems are framed as gains or losses. It involves selecting and highlighting certain aspects while excluding or minimizing others. The effects of problem framing have been found in other types of decisions as well. For example, when patients are asked to select the form of cancer treatment they prefers, how the information is presented to them influences their decisions. More lung cancer patients select surgery when they are told that they have a “68% chance of living for more than 1 year” rather than when they are told that surgery results in a “32% chance of dying by the end of the year”. 

An employee whose attendance is framed in positive terms (of example, the percentage of days present on the job) is likely to be evaluated more favorably than another employee with the exact same rate of absenteeism whose attendance is framed negatively (the percentage of days absent from the job). People have a general tendency to evaluate the same characteristic more positively when given a positive description than when given a negative description. 

Not only does the framing of our choice influence our decision processes, but the framing the outcomes of our choices has an impact on how we think as well. 

Research suggest that decision makers perceive equal situations differently depending on how they are framed. Due to our limited mental capacity, we bias our thinking when we focus on the descriptive elements used to categorize what we see. What we perceive is condensed, summarized, and recorded by the mind according to what seems to be the most important aspect of the situation. Although we might recognize at an intellectual level that a glass that is half full is the same as one that is half empty, different frames systematically distort how we react to identical situations and how we make decisions. 

Corrective Procedures 
  • Take multiple perspectives. 
  • Try to frame problems in terms of objectives we are trying to achieve. 
  • Never automatically accept a given frame – always reframe and look for distortion, 
  • Strive for neutrality. 
  • Frame the problem from the opposite perspective and attempt to justify the new viewpoint. 
  • Be aware of how our framing might influence the decisions of others. 

8. Escalation of Commitment 

Given the several thousand business decisions made every day, some are bound to be unsuccessful. Rationally, it makes sense that once we recognize that we’ve made a bad decision, we should take steps to correct the situation by cutting our losses. However, often bad solutions are followed by even more ineffective decisions. Investors purchase more and more shares of a company, even though the stock price keeps on declining. 

Organizers pour large amounts of money into an operation even when it’s apparent that the event will lose money. The tendency of commitment – decisions that continue to support previously unsuccessful courses of action because too much has been invested to quit. 

We are sometimes forced to make a decision as a result of a previous decision. For example, you personally hired to a new employee and you believed she would be an excellent performer in your department. However, initial indications are that she isn’t going to live up to your expectations, and in fact, she even seems to be having a detrimental effect on her colleagues. Should you terminate her? Perhaps she just needs time to adjust, and after all, you invested a lot of time and money in her selection and training. After more time passes, it still seems as though she isn’t working out, but now you even more invested in more in the hope of success and improvement in her. Should you fire her, or wait and see if things improve? 

What if you’ve invested a significant amount of money in a project that has spent its budgeted amount but has yet to prove successful? You are faced with two choices, either accept the loss and end the project or invest more capital into the project in the hope of turning things around. How would you decide? On a more personal level, anyone who has been put on hold while on the telephone, faces escalating commitment. 

Decision makers willingly escalate their commitment to unsuccessful decisions for a number of reasons. 
  • First, failure to support our own previous action openly acknowledges that the initial decision was a mistake, forcing us to “lose face” and reducing our political credibility. We seek self-justification and desire to look good to ourselves and others by proving that we are indeed rational and competent at resolving problems, therefore, we decide to continue even though all indications are that we should stop. 
  • Second, as mentioned under framing effects the way we frame a problem, influences our subsequent decision. The obvious loss of discontinuing a previous course of action biases us to prefer to “take the gamble” in the hopes of gains that may be realized if only we preserve long enough. 
  • Third, decision makers often believe that persistence is necessary and desirable to whether the storm get back on course. After all, traditional wisdom insists that “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” and the future may still prove that our initial decision was correct. 
  • Fourth, as the amount of responsibility felt by the decision maker for the original decisions rises, the likelihood of escalating commitment increases. When we feel personally responsible for making the first decision, negative feedback about what we did biases us by limiting our objectivity and changing how we view and evaluate alternatives. So, if you are the one who decided to hire a new employee, you are not only less likely to fire her, but you are also more likely to distort your perceptions of her work performance and abilities in her favor. 
Corrective Procedures 
  • Take multiple perspectives. 
  • Consider arguments from others, especially from those who were not involved in the initial decision. 
  • Be aware of why we are committing ourselves to a further course of action. 
  • Anticipate a possible withdrawal beforehand and factor the cost or retreat into our thinking. 
  • Explicitly share responsibility with others. 
  • Set limits in advance and stick to them. Select others who were not involved with the initial decision to make the new decision.
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Application of Perception Theories in Organizations

Organization is a place where different types of individuals work together for achieving common as well as individuals goals. In the process of working together they need to understand each other. Such understanding of others depends on one’s perception. Perception plays a vital role in organizations particularly in the field of recruitment, selection, appraisal, promotion and so on. 

People’s perceptions and attributions influence how they behave in their organization. Perception describes the way people filter, organize and interpret sensory information. Attribution explains how people act, determining how people react to the actions of others as well. Accurate perception allows employees to interpret what they see and hear in the workplace effectively to make decisions, complete tasks and act in ethical manner. Faculty perceptions lead to problems in the organization, such as stereotyping, that lead people to erroneously make assumptions. 

Perception is a concept of psychology. The subject of organizational behavior applies the concept to explain various events and behavior that occur in formal organizations. What are those applications? 

Often the main aspects of perception in an organization is how an individual views others, as this can be a major point in how that person will behave within the business. It is also an aspect of how an individual is motivated within an organization. If they preserve people in a certain way then they may believe they are disliked, not listened to or ignored by this person and therefore their motivation to do anything will be far smaller. This is why in organizations, there needs to be sure that employees will in the organization fit before being hired and then when they are hired their first perceptions of others need to be good. 

To achieve first impression good companies will often introduce new employees and current employees in ways which show off key skills and highlight the importance of these people to the team. So positive perceptions are built instead of negatives. The perceptual process is how organizations cope with the aforementioned. 

Attribution Theory

Attribution theory has been proposed to develop explanations of the ways in which we judge people differently, depending on what meaning we attribute to a given behavior. Basically, the theory suggests that when we observe an individual’s behavior, we attempt to determine whether it was internally or externally caused. That determination, however, depends largely on three factors. 

1. Distinctiveness 
Distinctiveness refers to whether an individual displays different behaviors in different situations. Is the employee who arrived late today also the source of complaints by co-workers? What we want to know is, if this behavior is unusual or not. If it is unusual, the observer is likely to give the behavior an external attribution. If this action is not unusual, it will probably be judged as internal. 

2. Consensus 
If everyone, who is faced with a similar situation, responds in the same way, we can say the behavior shows consensus. Our late employee’s behavior would meet this criterion if all employees who took the same route to work were also late. From an attribution perspective if consensus is high, we would be expected to give an external attribution to the employee’s late coming, where as if other employees who took the same route made it into work on time, our conclusion as to causation would be internal. 

3. Consistency
Finally, an observer looks for consistency in a person’s actions. Does the person respond the same way over time? Coming ten minutes late for work is not perceived in the same way for the employee for whom it is a unusual case (he hasn’t been late for several months), as for the employee for whom it is part of routine pattern (he is regularly late two or three times a week). The more consistent the behavior, the more the observer is inclined to attribute it to internal causes. 

Attribution theory tell us that if an employee performs at about the same level on other related tasks as he does on his current task (low distinctiveness), if other employees frequently perform differently better or worse-than employee does on that current task (low consensus) and if employees’ performance on this current task is consistent over time (high consistency), their manager or anyone else who is judging their work is likely to hold them primarily responsible for their task performance. 

In short, it can be stated that the studies on attribution theory have generated the following conclusions: 

  1. When we are explaining our own behavior, we tend to over-estimate the importance of the situation and under estimate our own personality characteristics. 
  2. When we observe someone else behavior, we tend to over-estimate the influence of personality traits and under-estimate situational influences. 
  3. In evaluating the performance of employees, poor performance is generally attributed to internal personal factors, especially when the consequences are serious. 
  4. Employees tend to attribute their success to internal factors and their failures to external causes. 
  5. In casual situations, as we observe the successes and failure of others, we tend to attribute their successes to personality traits such as effort and ability and their failures to external factors such as the difficulty of the task. 

Attribution Errors

Attribution theory states that we have a tendency to explain someone’s behavior by attributing a cause to their behavior. In our effort to try to understand the behavior of others, we either explain their behavior is terms of their personality and disposition (internal), or we explain their behavior in terms of the situation (external). You might, for example, explain your professor’s harsh words about class performance as being the result of his angry personality type, or you might attribute it to his disappointment with the overall class performance. If you attribute his harsh words to an angry personality type, then you have made the fundamental attribution error. 

1. Fundamental Attribution Error 
The fundamental attribution error is our tendency to explain someone’s behavior based on internal factors, such as personality or disposition, and to underestimate the influence that external factors, such as situational influences, have on another person’s behavior. We might, for example, explain the fact that someone is unemployed on his or her character, and blame him or her for his or her plight, when in fact he or she was recently laid off due to a sluggish economy. Of course, there are times when we are correct about our assumptions, but the fundamental attribution error is our tendency to explain the behavior of others based on character or disposition. This is particularly true when the behavior is negative. 

2. Self-serving Bias 
A self-serving bias is nay cognitive or perceptual process that is distorted by the need to maintain and enhance self-esteem. When individuals reject the validity of negative feedback and focus on their strengths and achievements but overlook their faults and failures, or take more responsibility for their group’s work than they give to other members, they are protecting the ego from threat and injury. These cognitive and perceptual tendencies perpetuate illusions and error, but they also serve the self’s need for esteem. For example, a student who attributes earning a good grade in an exam to their own intelligence and preparation but attributes earning a poor grade to the teacher’s poor teaching ability or unfair test questions is exhibiting the self-serving bias. Studies have shown that similar attributions are made in various situations, such as the workplace, interpersonal relationships, sports and consumer decisions. 

Both motivational processes (i.e. self-enhancement, self-presentation) and cognitive processes (i.e. locus of control, self-esteem) influence the self-serving bias. There are both cross-cultural (i.e. individualistic and collectivistic culture differences) and special clinical population (i.e. depression) considerations within the bias. Much of the research on the self-serving bias has used participant self-reports of attribution based on experimental manipulation of task outcomes or in naturalistic situations. Some more modern research, however, has shifted focus to physiological manipulations, such as emotional inducement and neural activation, in an attempt to better understand the biological mechanisms that contribute to the self-serving bias.

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