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Essay on Social Cognition

Cognitive bias is thinking in a skewed manner. A bias is just a skew where individuals tend to do one thing, but they are not entirely fair about it (Aronson & Aronson, 2018). The three biases in social explanation are the fundamental attribution error, actor-observer error, and self-serving/position bias. Cognitive bias affects people and how they make decisions and judgements. Cognition is tied into behavior and emotion.

One of the biggest cognitive biases is known as the fundamental attribution error. Fundamental suggests that observers estimate the importance of traits and underestimate the importance of situations when referring to an actor’s behavior. People believe that disposition influences behavior. Attribution refers to how we attribute cause to an actor’s behavior. Behavior is often attributed to an individual or a situational influence. By large, we do not attribute behavior to situational influence (Aronson & Aronson, 2018). For instance, when someone cuts you off while driving. The responses in this scenario are final and accurate. One can start labeling such an individual as an aggressive person who does not care about safety. The cutting-off behavior is often attributed to a trait characteristic within that person. Additionally, if such a person is unknown, they can be judged in all kinds of negative ways. On the flipside, fundamental attribution error looks at the trait explanation in almost all scenarios.

The next type of bias is the actor-observer effect where individuals attribute others behavior to dispositional causes, and personal behavior to situational causes. This type of bias is unwilling to give other people the benefit of doubt. On the other hand, if the cause is a situation, we try to explain it as situational so that others do not misjudge us. However, they are most likely to render judgment in terms of dispositional causes. For instance, when a wide receiver in football misses the ball, fans of the opposing team often hurl insults suggesting that he is a bad player (East Tennessee State University, 2014). Due to the fundamental attribution error, these fans are going to believe that the player is making excuses for such a miss. On the flip side, the player explains the situation as a miss caused by direct sun to his face. If the situation was reversed, the opposing fans would miss the ball and now the player might think they are making.

The third type of cognitive bias is the self-serving bias where individuals tend to interpret their history, behavior and existence in a positive self serving light that may be objectively warranted. Individuals make attributions that make room for a positive evaluation of self. In most cases, these types of people have a better memory of positive life events than negative events (East Tennessee State University, 2014). People often make personal attributions that are forgiving. Mistakes are followed by lots of core reasons or explanations. On the other hand, positive achievements warrant credit. Individuals want credit for things that went right and dismiss criticism for things that went bad. Situational explanations prevent people from looking down on themselves, which is often an indicator of good mental health.


In conclusion, behavior and emotion forms the basis of cognition. Thinking in a skewed manner defines cognitive biases where individuals are not entirely fair about their actions. The three biases are fundamental attribution error, actor-observer error, and self-serving/position bias. Consequently, cognitive bias affects individual decisions and judgements.


Aronson, E., & Aronson, J. (2018). The social animal. New York, NY, USA:: Worth Publishers, Macmillan Learning.

East Tennessee State University. (2014, September 9). Module 4 – Social Psychology: Cognitive Biases: Fundamental Attribution Error, Actor-observer Effect, Self-serving/Positivity Bias, & Self-fulfilling Prophecy. YouTube.


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