Actor-observer bias

Theory explained by Oreoluwa Akinnawo and written by Nisbett and Wilson

The actor-observer bias also known as "fundamental attribution error" is a type of attributional bias that plays a role in how we perceive and interact with other people. When people judge their own behaviour, they are more likely to attribute their actions to a particular situation than to their personality. However, when an observer is explaining the behaviour of another person, they are more likely to attribute this behaviour to the actors' personality rather than to situational factors. This frequent error shows the bias that people hold in their evaluations of behavior.

What Is The Actor Observer Effect All About?

Essentially, people tend to make different attributions depending upon whether they are the actor or the observer in a situation. People tend to succumb to this bias less frequently with people they know well, such as close friends and family members. Why? Because we have more information about the needs, motivations, and thoughts of these individuals, we are more likely to account for the external forces that impact behaviour.

How Can One Manage the Actor Observer Effect?

The Actor-Observer effect is one tricky cognitive effect because everyone is affected by it. It can lead to misunderstandings because, in real life, attribution is something we all do every day, usually without any awareness of the underlying processes and biases that lead to our inferences. Business owners tend to fall victim to this bias when assessing the user experience of their websites.

User testing

Running usability tests is a great way to assess your website to identify bottlenecks. The goal of conducting usability tests is to understand if your website is usable and intuitive enough for users to accomplish their goals. Don’t discount the valuable feedback you can get through this process as you always have to put yourself in your visitors' shoes.

Web Exit Surveys

This is a type of survey that pops up when visitors are exiting your website and it can be used to gather useful information.

Actor-Observer Effect Survey Example

Live Chat Transcripts

Live Chats are instantaneous and visitors are likely to use them once they encounter a problem/issue on the website. This turns the Live Chat into a priceless resource for gaining insight on the bottlenecks your visitors are facing, when the chat transcripts are looked at, one can start to identify trends in the chat logs and specifically look for keywords that address the issues users might face when on your website.

Actor-Observer Effect Live Chat Example

Example of hypothesis applied

If we gather more data, then conversions can increase for all users on all devices, because of ruling out the Actor-observer bias.

Sources

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Overlapping theories

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Books

Would you like to go more in-depth? Here are our recommendations:

Irrationality: The Enemy Within by Stuart Sutherland, Ben Goldacre Buy now
Social Psychology and Human Nature by Roy F. Baumeister, Brad J. Bushman Buy now

References

1. Situational Salience and Cultural Differences in the Correspondence Bias and Actor-Observer Bias
2. Actor-observer differences in perceptions of effective control

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Actor Observer Bias?

The actor-observer bias is a type of attributional bias that plays a role in how we perceive and interact with other people.

Definition of Actor Observer Bias?

Essentially, people tend to make different attributions depending upon whether they are the actor or the observer in a situation.

How can you manage the Actor Observer Effect?

You can manage the Actor Observer Effect with User testing, Web Exit survey, Live Chat, and more.

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