Attribution Theory and Blaming the Software

karma17 wrote on 3/25/2019, 7:23 PM

Okay, so I have a little background in psychology and one of the theories that always fascinated me was known at the time as attribution theory. It is simply the idea that a person attributes causality (or influence) to whatever is the focus of their attention.

The classic example is if you are watching a person walk down a sidewalk and see them trip on a crack. Since you are focusing on the person and not the sidewalk, you attribute causality to the person and might say something like "Ha, that guy needs to watch where he is going." However, if you are walking down that very same sidewalk and trip the same way, you will probably say, "Hey, somebody needs to fix that crack. Lawsuit time?" The difference is that when you are walking you are now focusing your attention on the sidewalk and not yourself. You are attending to the sidewalk, so that's where you attribute influence.

Now with software, it seems that when people are having issues, they tend to be focusing on the software itself and attributing causality to it. In essence, blaming it for everything. The problem is the actual problem might not be the software. It might be a setting you forgot to adjust. It might be your computer. It might be the driver in your graphics card. It could be any number of things not related at all to the reliability of the software. Of course, there may be times when there is a bug in the software, but these can be reported and usually there are workarounds pending the fix.

The bottom line is to take a step back when having issues and don't immediately blame whatever is the focus of your attention. Widen your focus of attention and pull back.

Just my thoughts for today!


Eagle Six wrote on 3/25/2019, 7:45 PM

@karma17 Thank You, I like your thoughts. Not sure of the classic example, but I get the idea how you want it to fit in your thoughts.

Any user of any purchased software, seems to me certainly has a right to complain when things are not working for them. There are a lot of complainers starting and contributing to thread in this forum, and I think that is how it should be. Of course an occasional fanboy thread is nice and I would think welcome.

It's amazing to me how well users are treated when they make constructive complaints, and that is as it should be. I'm also impressed with most of the moderators, and users, who constructively respond to some users that are rather rude and rely on foul language (or the reference of) to express their displeasure. Fortunately those who make unjustified rash and rude criticism are the minority. Regardless, some are hard to deal with, and difficult to help, and I admire some folks, both users and moderators, who hold their temper and judgment in an effort to truly assist others to resolve their issues. Sometimes it's a matter of how one ask, or demands, that will determine if they are given positive or negative acknowledgement.

On the other hand, I hope the moderators tolerence for misbehavior does not allow this bad behavior, from a few, to grow to a majority, which I have seen ruin other forums. Just some of my thoughts for today.


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Musicvid wrote on 3/26/2019, 6:58 PM

The observer is part of the equation. Lacking developed metacognition, most people will never understand this.

On this forum, nothing will get you misrepresented faster than suggesting alternate approaches to problem solving, such as working from Z-A, employing rule-out theory, indirect proof, beta hypothesis, empiricism, deductive reasoning, or plain old cut-and-try, all rational approaches to the classic, default failure of attribution -- "I thought of this possibility; therefore it is the correct answer for everyone. If someone has a different perspective, I am therefore entitled to attack because I am right and you are not."

(That was paraphrased from an actual forum quote).

My favorite personal example of this classic fail comes from an independent investigational geometry exercise, in which a student chose to estimate the roof height of a new campus gymnasium using only a 99 cent protractor and a measuring tape. SOCAHTOA. The student ran several trials from different positions and proudly announced that the flat part of the roof was 18' 2" from the foundation. I then questioned him by asking if he was sure of his math, had he compared different methods, and I stated that I was sure the building was higher than that, maybe 28 ft., as I had worked in farm construction when I was younger. Seeing a red flag yet?

It turns out that the blueprint elevation was within 4" of his measurement, and my mentoring style changed on the spot to something a little less teacher-centric.

As a footnote, the student had his EE PhD paid for by DOC. This nugget came in an email I received earlier this week.

We're working with measurements of RF systems from 3-110 GHz, and bandwidths from CW-1GHz. I remembered a while back having a question for you, something along the lines of "can you show me the math so I could calculate whether an antenna would work without building it?" I now have my answer to that question: we run these problems for many hours on GPU processors, with in-house code.

(If I were asked the same question today, I would say that it's easy to infer that building an antenna with a half-wavelength of 1.5 mm would be tricky.)

All I can say to you two guys, @Eagle Six and @karma17, along with a handful of other contributors and moderators is a big Thanks! Holmsian logic may be over-idealized, but it's a damn sight better place to start than the dramatic improv routines more commonly seen here, which are probably more reflective of the responder's self-esteem than anything related to the practical problem at hand.

Back to campaign volunteering -- we're currently at 1%, with nowhere to go but up!