The psychology of social chess and the evolution of attribution mechanisms: explaining the fundamental attribution error
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Theory of mind is the field devoted to understanding how organisms discern the mental states of others. Because mental states are not directly observable, they can only be inferred from observable features of the actor (such as behavior) and the situational context that the actor is in. Social psychologists, who study theory of mind processes under the rubric of attribution research, have shown that people often make a logical error of inference: The "fundamental attribution error" (FAE) is the tendency to assume that an actor's behavior and mental state correspond to a degree that is logically unwarranted by the situation. The social environment in which theory of mind capacities evolved may have influenced attributional processing in ways that could explain the error. In particular, the error could be caused by a psyche that is designed (1) to consider only those noncorresponding mental states (such as deception) that could have fitness consequences to the mind reader; (2) to bias inferences in a way that reduces the costs of erroneous inferences; or (3) to bias inferences in a way that yields reputational benefits. The existing literature is reviewed in light of these hypotheses.
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