Experiments with People: Revelations from Social Psychology

By Robert P. Abelson; Kurt P. Frey et al. | Go to book overview

23
The Burglar's Situation:
Actor-Observer
Differences in
Explaining Behavior

“People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. ”

—Richard Nixon (1913–1994), former [crooked] U. S. President


BACKGROUND

Your'e in line at a supermarket, resisting rows of tempting candy bars. Your eyes scan a tabloid headline—Pet Pig Devours Wedding Cake—when the woman in front of you suddenly becomes irate. She is trying to get a double- coupon price on an already discounted item (or something like that) and the cashier is explaining that it does not work that way. The woman refuses to budge (as the line behind her grows) and insists on talking to the manager. She starts to ramble incoherently about customer relations and the policies of other supermarkets. You step back a foot or two as her voice falters and then becomes loud again. Will she do something dramatic? Is she mentally ill, or does she simply have a keen sense of justice? Your train of thought continues along these lines. What is it about this woman that is causing her to act this way?

Later the same day you find yourself in what others might view as a similar situation (although you don't see the parallel). You are a student returning a textbook that you discovered you do not need. The book is still in the bag—your hectic schedule has kept you from returning it sooner. A cashier explains that you have missed the 30-day return deadline: “I'll say it one more time: you're too late for a refund. I'm sorry!” But late by only a week,

-268-

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