Fundamental Attribution Error

I think there is a good chance that I should be in the baseball record book for at least two accomplishments. On one occasion, I was pulled (not because of an injury) as the starting pitcher after 5 pitches to the first batter. That has to be record. The second occasion may not be a record, but it has to be close. It occurred when I made 6 errors in one 7 inning game playing shortstop.

I was reminded of my baseball career when I recently read a Wall Street Journal column by Dan Ariely, the Duke University behavioral economist. Many years ago he was a speaker at an investment conference I attended. He was so interesting, I immediately bought his book Predictably Irrational and finished it before the conference ended. The book was that good.

Ariely's WSJ column discussed a behavior psychologists call "Fundamental Attribution Error," which, unbeknownst to those psychologists, is really about my shortstop multi-error experience. According to FAE, we all have a tendency to see the good things that we accomplish to be because of our talent and hard work. However, when bad things happen, it's because of outside circumstances. Conversely, we attribute the good things happening to others to external circumstances, while the bad things are their fault.

That thinking is abundant here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp where most of the white collar inmates accept no responsibility for being here. They're convinced it wasn't their fault. They have things they want to learn from being here, but that knowledge is only to know better how to handle the outside circumstances that put them here. That fallacious thinking is unproductive, but it's not unexpected for someone who blames federal law enforcement agencies for his imprisonment. Thankfully, that's at least one problem I don't have.

In the case of my shortstop experience, after that first game, the manager moved me to 2nd base, where I played the remainder of the season error free. So was the cause of 6 errors my lack of arm strength to make a decent throw from deep in the hole between second and third base, or was it my manager's inexperienced lack of recognition until the second game that I was a natural second baseman? Which perspective provided incentive to strengthen my arm to become a better player? Obviously, applying FAE, it was the manager's fault that my almost promising baseball career soon ended.

Years later, I witnessed a Baylor third baseman make 5 errors in one game against the Texas Aggies, but that was totally his fault.

© 2016 by Charles D. Jones