an After abortion

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Friday, March 3, 2006

The fundamental attribution error and post-abortion distress.

A lot of women I know, after an abortion, think that they are bad: not that they did something bad (wrong, sinful, hurtful, damaging) but that they are bad.

Obviously, such a pervasively negative self-evaluation is hard to live with. It provokes depression and anxiety, at a minimum.

It's an interesting twist on an aspect of how we evaluate people. The general subject of "how we evaluate people" is something that psychologists and social scientists have tried to break down and study.

One set of studies indicates that people, when they are considering an action performed by other people, tend to make something called the fundamental attribution error:

In attribution theory, the fundamental attribution error (sometimes referred to as the actor-observer bias, correspondence bias or overattribution effect) is the tendency for people to over-emphasize dispositional, or personality-based, explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior. In other words, people tend to have a default assumption that what a person does is based more on what "kind" of person he is, rather than the social and environmental forces at work on that person. This default assumption leads to people sometimes making erroneous explanations for behavior.
In other words, when we are trying to figure out why Bob down the street left his garbage cans sitting out for two days after trash day, we tend to think that the reason Bob did that is that Bob is a sloppy, lazy jerk, as opposed to considering the possibility that circumstances in Bob's life cropped up this week that were unusually overwhelming to him.

That is, we decide that there is something wrong and bad inside of Bob. Bob is bad (lazy and sloppy), rather than Bob did one thing wrong.

Interestingly, it's also a known fact about the fundamental attribution error that:

This general bias to over-emphasizing dispositional explanations for behavior at the expense of situational explanations is much less likely to occur when people evaluate their own behavior.
In other words, if Bob leaves his empty garbage cans on the curb for two days, he's lazy, sloppy and inconsiderate. But if I leave my empty garbage cans on the curb for two days, I'm just having a super, super hard time in my life that made it really hard to get those trash cans back in the garage--for example, the emergency visit to the hospital.

Most of the post-abortive women who have read this far will recognize that, contrary to the normal case, when they evaluate their own self relative to the abortion, they tend to ascribe their choice of the abortion not to situational factors but to their own, internal, badness.

And, pretty often, this happens when the woman was raised in a family that when she was young, attributed her childish errors and mistakes to negative internal dispostions on her part. If she spilled the milk, it's because she's clumsy. If she didn't pick up the toys, it's because she's lazy. So, she's used to believing that anything she does that is either wrong or displeasing to others happens because there is something wrong inside of her.

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