Fundamental attribution error

Fundamental attribution error

Why Bikes Make Smart People Say Dumb Things has a lot to say, but the most interesting part for me is the following snippet:

When a bike blows a stop sign, though, we’re more likely to see it as evidence that “cyclists think they’re above the law.” The social psychology term for this bias is “fundamental attribution error”: the tendency to attribute the actions of others to their inherent nature rather than their situation, and the less we sympathize with their situation, the greater the bias. A 2002 study from the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory found that it plays a starring role in our perceptions of traffic behavior, with drivers far more likely to see a cyclist’s infraction as stemming from ineptitude or recklessness than an identical one committed by another driver. It may also help explain why I’ve been approached more than once while holding my bike by random strangers, asking me to explain the behavior of another cyclist they once saw doing something stupid. I ride a bike, therefore I’m one of them.

That last bit will resonate with many of you, I am sure. Humans are wired in a certain way, but there are ways to mitigate negative stereotypes, as it goes on to mention about car-free riding events:

[…]they’re powerful bias-breaking tools, and do wonders to dispel the stereotypes that still permeate the discussion about cycling: cyclists are entitled hipsters, spandex-clad elitists, wild-eyed eco-warriors, scofflaw bums. These are harder to maintain when you’re surrounded by biking families of six, and retirees carrying dogs in their front baskets.

Through efforts of orgs like SVBC, these perceptions are slowly but surely being changed, and each time a cyclist rides it contributes to this change.

Bonus link: Ride like a girl – because cyclists are often marginalized, it can serve as a feminist tool of empathy. Quick read, and one that 50% or more of you will completely understand. ^_^

Image: By altiemae (Flickr: Citibikes, 9/2/13) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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