Judging Others

I recently heard something that stuck with me as a good little adage to remember about judging others: “Logic doesn’t equal fact”.

I think this is an important thing to remember in every aspect of our lives; but particularly in regard to how we might unwittingly treat other people because of the assumptions we make about their intentions and abilities:

When we to try understand someone’s behaviors, we tend to base our explanations on what we think we see. We make a quick assumption given the limited data we have, and if the assumption seems logical we accept it as fact.

In one of my old social psychology textbooks, the authors (Brehm, Kassin, and Fein) explain that when judging another’s behaviors, our explanations come in the form of us making either personal or situational attributions. In other words, we make assumptions about whether the success or failure of another’s actions were do to his own skill and ability, or whether he lucked out or got burned because the environment had set him up for automatic success or failure.

The authors note that where we typically err in our attributions is through the use of cognitive heuristics (rules of thumb that allow us to make quick, but often erroneous assumptions) and the fundamental attribution error, in which we overestimate the role of personal factors on the impact of a situation.

In other words, the assumptions we make based on our own logic is often wrong. So the next time you’re in the position to praise, acknowledge, condemn, or dismiss the results someone’s actions, ask yourself whether you might be making an inaccurate assumption, and why. If things went well did you overestimate his contribution because you like him? If they didn’t go so well did you so for unfair reasons?