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Understanding The Fundamental Attribution Error

June 3, 2009

Blake Gantney

Fundamental Attribution Error: is a theory describing cognitive tendency to predominantly over-value personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others, thus under-valuing the potentiality of situational attributions or situational explanations for the behavioral motives of others.

Understanding this error that so many marketers, and general population for that matter, have failed to embrace, is the key to understanding how to market to Gen Y-ers.

Hello, since this is my first post for this blog I wanted to provide some quick background information. I am the owner and CEO of a web design and marketing consulting company named Kamoria ( I am also the Director of Marketing for a company called Fitness Quest 10 (, which was just named one of the top 10 fitness facilities in the nation by the national publication Men’s Health. I hold a passion for science, which has allowed me to take some more unique approaches to marketing issues. I look forward to having this opportunity to share with you the knowledge I have gained from my successes, failures, research and experience.

Lets break down the Fundamental Attribution Error. What this social psychology term means is that we place a much greater importance on personal actions of a situation then on the external context of the situation at hand. An extreme example of this can be seen if you imagine the situation of a person who shoots and kills a completely innocent and random pedestrian on the street. Most of our first impressions would tell us to think that this person is a cold-blooded murder. Well, lets step back and view the context of the situation. We then discover that the murderer in fact had a person pointing a gun at his own head and had someone ordering him to shoot the pedestrian. Now we might not see the original perceived murderer as a murderer at all when we discover the context of the situation he was presented in. His actions might now be perceived as self-defense. The point I hope you can see from this is that we MUST understand the context of a situation in order to truly understand the driving forces behind Gen-Y consumers.

Changing your lens into this view can bring a whole new light to Gen-Y. Lets now observe the situation in which Gen-Y has grown up in. Gen Y has grown up in a very unique technological revolution. There are two very important advances that have distinctively shape Gen-Y, the cell phone and the Internet.  First we must look at how these two advances have shaped Gen Y, then we will look at what this means in terms of marketing. The explosion of cell phones and the Internet has created a generation that feels the instantaneous need to always be connected. When this is understood it becomes easy to see why the social media industry has been so successful. 

This can have very powerful implications when it comes to marketing. New products can now be positioned to satisfy Gen Y’s obsession with always having to be connected.

This analysis of Gen Y has obviously been on the largest of scales, however this context and situational analysis can be used on much smaller scales.  This type of context understanding must take place on each individual market that one plans to market too. For example, one would find a much different context between a Gen Yer living in San Diego vs. just about any other city in the US because the context they draw from is very different. I am sure you all learned this basic idea of understanding and researching your target market in your intro marketing class, but what they don’t teach you is how to apply the context analysis to all aspects of your target market.  This is the idea I want to leave you with, consciously put your self into all aspects of your target markets lives.  Observe and study the context of everything surrounding that market and only then will you have insight on how to creatively answer the who, what, where, when and most importantly the Y.

Blake Gantney
Join me on Twitter: 
Owner/CEO of Kamoria (
Director of Marketing, Fitness Quest 10 (

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