Arsene Wenger and the fundamental attribution error
I’m not what you’d call a football fan. Yes, I always listen out for Derby’s result and occasionally listen to Radio Derby’s commentary, though it really hasn’t been the same since Graham Richards retired. But I’ve probably been to fewer than 10 professional games in my entire life.
One of the reasons for my disenchantment with football is the constant nonsense spouted by many of the people running the game. Such as Paul Jewell’s recent pronouncements on female assistant referees or the ludicrous assertion by Adrian Bevington of the FA (and many others) that the next England manager should be English. Surely we’d be better off picking the best person for the job, regardless of their nationality – or gender for that matter.
However, one person who nearly always makes me reach for the off switch is the current Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger. It’s not because I dislike him or his club – I’m decidedly ambivalent about both – but that he is forever reminding me about the fundamental attribution error (FAE) from DD307.
Put simply, the FAE is an argument which states that there is a tendency everyone has to overvalue dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviours of others while undervaluing situational explanations for the same behaviours. For example, the FAE could be argued to be operating when Arsene Wenger claims that a poor decision was made because the referee isn’t very good at their job (a dispositional attribution) rather than because of the difficulties of refereeing a game where most of the participants don’t know how to spell sportsmanship, let alone understand what it is. Just occasionally when Arsenal lose you’d expect Wenger to acknowledge the possibility of situational explanations, but he seems to invariably make dispositional attributions about other people’s behaviour instead.
So when Arsenal were beaten 3-2 by Swansea last weekend, Wenger is reported by the BBC as claiming that their defeat is in large part due to a poor decision made by the referee. Earlier on that week he appeared to be blaming Arsenal’s problems on the television schedulers. In December, when they lost to Manchester City, Wenger attributes their failure to the inability of the referee to understand the offside rule. Look at the match reports on the BBC Sport website if you think I’m exaggerating!
There is a point to this rant. Most people exhibit this attribution bias even if it’s not to the extent that the Arsenal manager appears to. So do I.
The danger is that our tendency to make such attributions means that we – I – miss the real reasons for success and failure. I’m not sure if I can do anything about my own tendencies, but at least I’m now aware of the possibility that my own explanations of other’s behaviour might just be wrong sometimes …