Hostile attribution bias (+7 other types of cognitive biases)

In this article, we talk about cognitive biases. Mainly about the hostile attribution bias, but also about other attribution errors and biases, highlighting their consequences on our social interaction and day to day lives. 

What is the hostile attribution bias?

The hostile attribution bias or, more recently called, the hostile attribution style is a processing error that refers to a tendency to misinterpret social signals, attributing a hostile and intentional intent to harm suffered in an ambiguous stimulus condition.

Dodge (2006) states that attributing hostile intentions to behaviours that harm us is a universal trend, so being able to discriminate that an action that causes us harm could be motivated by a benign intention, subject to cognitive development that is it begins to reach around the third year of life. 

Not all children learn to identify signs properly and some may develop a tendency to attribute hostile intentions based on dysfunctional patterns that arise from certain experiences of various kinds in the early stages of life, such as physical abuse, learning by modelling trends of hostile attribution by adult referents, failures in overcoming important vital tasks or even other cultural factors, such as growing up in a society that values ​​aggression, self-defence or revenge positively.

Various empirical studies have highlighted the importance of hostile attribution bias in aggression (Cillessen et al., 2014; De Castro et al., 2002), especially in reactive aggression (Dodge et al., 1990; Yaros et al. ., 2014). 

Thus, violent adolescents appear to have a greater tendency to attribute negative intentions to others under ambiguous stimulus conditions compared with non-aggressive adolescents (Crick and Dodge, 1996; Lochman and Dodge, 1994). 

Similar results are also obtained in adults. Schönenberg and Jusyte (2014) examined hostile attribution bias in a sample of 55 incarcerated violent offenders, compared with a group of control subjects through a task of properly identifying the emotions contained in ambiguous facial expressions. The results indicated that the group of violent offenders, compared to the control group, tended to interpret more hostile faces that showed greater ambiguity in the expression of emotions.

The impact of cognitive biases

Cognitive biases are psychological effects that cause an alteration in the processing of the information captured by our senses, which generates a distortion, erroneous judgment, inconsistent or illogical interpretation based on the information that we have.

Social biases are those that refer to attribution biases and disrupt our interactions with other people in our daily lives.

The mind deceives us

The phenomenon of cognitive biases is born as an evolutionary necessity so that the human being can make immediate judgments that our brain uses to respond agilely to certain stimuli, problems or situations, which due to its complexity would be impossible to process all the information, and therefore requires selective or subjective filtering. 

Cognitive bias can indeed lead us to mistakes, but in certain contexts it allows us to decide faster or to make an intuitive decision when the immediacy of the situation does not allow its rational scrutiny.

Most studied cognitive biases

Retrospective bias or a posteriori bias: is the propensity to perceive past events as predictable.

Correspondence bias – also called attribution error – is the tendency to overemphasize other people’s grounded explanations, behaviours, or personal experiences.

Confirmation bias: is the tendency to find out or interpret information that confirms preconceptions.

Self-service bias: This is the tendency to demand more responsibility for successes than for failures. It is also shown when we tend to interpret ambiguous information as useful for your intentions.

False Consensus Bias: It is the tendency to judge that your own opinions, beliefs, values ​​and customs are more widespread among other people than they are.

Memory bias: Memory bias can upset the content of what we remember.

Representation bias: when we assume that something is more probable from a premise that, in reality, does not predict anything.

Attribution errors and biases

The same behaviour can be interpreted in completely different ways. The

causal attributions are not made solely from the information that we have, but they are also mediated by our attitudes and expectations, as well as the particular perspective we have of the fact or observed behaviour. 

All these factors remind us of the subjective nature of the attribution. Frequent errors or biases reside in this subjectivity attributional that we commit. We will highlight the fundamental error of attribution; the false consensus; biases favourable to the self; group-friendly biases; the Seligman’s insidious bias.

Fundamental attribution error

It is the tendency to attribute own positive results to internal causes (eg. ability or personal characteristics), and negative results to external causes (eg chance or difficulty of the task). Various possible explanations have been suggested for this trend, which can be grouped into two categories: (a) cognitive and (b) motivational.

False consensus

It is understood as a tendency to estimate that our behaviour or our opinions are relatively common, that others think and act like us.

Self-favourable biases

This category of bias refers to the tendency to attribute positive results

proper to internal causes (eg ability or personal characteristics), and negative results to external causes (eg chance or difficulty of the task). They have suggested several possible explanations for this trend, which can be grouped into two categories: (a) cognitive and (b) motivational.

Group-friendly biases

Tendency of the subjects, in intergroup contexts, to explain the behaviours positives made by other members of your group based on the actor’s personal dispositions, while his negative actions are explained by situational factors. This pattern is reversed when the actor is perceived as a member of an outgroup.

Seligman’s insidious attributional bias

Insidious attribution bias is basically about attributing successes to external factors, specific and unstable and attributing failures to internal, global factors and stable. The insidious attributional style is depressive.

Cognitive heuristics

They are cognitive rules and strategies that are as simple as possible that lead from a

quick, but not always exact, way to solve the problem.

Representative heuristic

It consists of a judgment of relevance or similarity that produces a

probability estimate.

Availability heuristic

It consists of using the specific examples that come faster and stronger

to our minds, those that are more accessible to us.

Simulation heuristic

Used when predicting a future event, diagnosing the probability of

a specific effect, calculate conditional probabilities and diagnoses

contrary to the facts.

Anchoring and adjustment heuristics

When we try to make judgments with some uncertainty, sometimes we try to

reduce ambiguity by taking a starting point that serves as a reference

reference to reach a conclusion

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FAQ about the hostile attribution bias

What is an example of hostile attribution bias?

An example of hostile attribution bias is for example, when in a room and seeing two people discussing, you immediately assume they are discussing about you – which, let’s face it,  may not be true at all.

What is an attribution bias?

The attribution bias is the tendency to attribute own positive results to internal causes (eg. ability or personal characteristics), and negative results to external causes (eg chance or difficulty of the task).

What is value attribution bias?

Value Attribution bias refers to the tendency to give people and object certain qualities based on perceived value, rather than on objective data.

What is the false consensus?

False consensus is understood as a tendency to estimate that our behaviour or our opinions are relatively common, that others think and act like us.

Conclusions

In this article, we talked about cognitive biases. Mainly about the hostile attribution bias, but also about other attribution errors and biases, highlighting their consequences on our social interaction and day to day lives. 

Cognitive biases are psychological effects that cause an alteration in the processing of the information captured by our senses, which generates a distortion, erroneous judgment, inconsistent or illogical interpretation based on the information that we have.

Social biases are those that refer to attribution biases and disrupt our interactions with other people in our daily lives.

The hostile attribution bias or, more recently called, the hostile attribution style is a processing error that refers to a tendency to misinterpret social signals, attributing a hostile and intentional intent to harm suffered in an ambiguous stimulus condition.

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know!

Further reading

BIASED: 50 Powerful Cognitive Biases That Impair Our Judgment (The Psychology of Economic Decisions), by Henry Priest 

The Blindspots Between Us: How to Overcome Unconscious Cognitive Bias and Build Better Relationships, by Gleb Tsipursky 

Cognitive Biases: A Fascinating Look into Human Psychology and What You Can Do to Avoid Cognitive Dissonance, Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills, and Make Better Decisions, by Jerrell Forman

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman 

References

K.A. Dodge

Translational science in action: Hostile attributional style and the development of aggressive behaviour problems Development and Psychopathology, 18 (2006), pp. 791-814, 10.1017/S0954579406060391

K.A. Dodge, J.M. Price, J. Bachorowski, J.P. Newman Hostile Attributional biases in severely aggressive adolescents Journal of abnormal psychology, 99 (1990), pp. 385-392, 10.1037/0021-843X.99.4.385

Cillessen, A. H. N, Lansu, T. A. M. y Berg, Y. H. M van den (2014). Aggression, hostile attributions, status, and gender: A continued quest. Development and Psychopathology, 26, 634-644. doi: 10.1017/S0954579414000285

B.O. De Castro, J.W. Veerman, W. Koops, J.D. Bosch, H.J. Monshouwer

Hostile attribution of intent and aggressive behaviour: A meta-analysis

Child Development, 73 (2002), pp. 916-934, 10.1111/1467-8624.00447

M. Schönenberg, A. Jusyte

Investigation of the hostile attribution bias toward ambiguous facial cues in antisocial violent offenders European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 264 (2014), pp. 61-69, 10.1007/s00406-013-0440-1

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