As we prepare to disembark from a flight, waiting for docking to complete, we notice some people straining forward. They are even pushing! Who do they think they are, someone special? We then hear the stewardess announce, “As we are late, please let those with connecting flights pass through. Otherwise, they may might their flights.” Suddenly, we become a group of people eager to cooperate, even wishing our fellow passengers good luck.

What just happened?

We have proven once again the fundamental attribution error. Everyone makes this error, whether or not they have ADHD.

I addressed this in my 2013 article from the ACO Circle, noting differing attributional responses provided by undergraduate teachers in training when students fail a test. For students without ADHD, teachers rated boys more likely to fail. But when a student had ADHD, they rated rates a girl more likely to fail! There were also biased expectations for when a child was on or off medication.

We are likely to judge what people do on our assumption of what kind of people they are. We overestimate how much their actions are due to their appearance, diagnosis, disposition or beliefs, (for the airline passengers“, “Well, I’m special”). We think less of how circumstances affect their behavior (“Gosh, if I miss that connection, I’ll miss my sister’s wedding”). How can we judge motives?

A good exercise for us all would be to note where we make assumptions about people’s behavior, and consider what evidence we have to make that judgment.