Friday, July 15, 2011

Fundamental Attribution Error

A few days ago, I went to the university's 'Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation' to ask for a video of my teaching and a classroom observation. The director did the observation yesterday and we talked about it this morning.

She seemed very impressed overall with my teaching. During our conversation, she said something like "You are born to be a public speaker."

My parents can attest that this is simply not true. I am, by nature, quite introverted. I have no natural instinct for many basic social skills, like 'reading a crowd'. It has taken a lot of work over a lot of time to get me to the point where I can do a good job of teaching and interacting with a group of students.

I will admit that teaching a class is much easier than most social interactions, because I am unquestionably in control of the situation. I can act rather than react. If I know my stuff and plan well, then I do not have to worry that any uncertainties will develop. The only unknown factor is the attention and understanding of the students, and I have the ability to demand information and responses of them, rather than play the social guessing games that still confuse me.

I guess it is good that I have trained enough for people to think that I am 'a natural'. But it is a bit annoying that people credit innate ability for that. This is the 'Fundamental Attribution Error' of the title. People assume that what they see in others is the result of innate characteristics, rather than planning or training or the situation.

Something similar happened a few weeks ago in a conversation with my martial arts teacher. I told him that I am naturally clumsy and he had a hard time believing it. He sees me doing martial arts moves I have trained for years, and the parkour moves that are closely related, and thinks that I have a natural dexterity. I don't. I am naturally clumsy, and it has taken a lot of training to fight that clumsiness.

No comments: