Stressing the person: Legal and everyday person attributions under stress

Jennifer T. Kubota, Rachel Mojdehbakhsh, Candace Raio, Tobias Brosch, James S. Uleman, Elizabeth A. Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When determining the cause of a person's behavior, perceivers often overweigh dispositional explanations and underweigh situational explanations, an error known as the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE). The FAE occurs in part because dispositional explanations are relatively automatic, whereas considering the situation requires additional cognitive effort. Stress is known to impair the prefrontal cortex and executive functions important for the attribution process. We investigated if stress increases dispositional attributions in common place and legal situations. Experiencing a physiological stressor increased participants' cortisol, dispositional attributions of common everyday behaviors, and negative evaluations. When determining whether a crime was due to the defendant's disposition or the mitigating situation, self-reported stress correlated with increased dispositional judgments of defendant's behavior. These findings indicate that stress may make people more likely to commit the FAE and less favorable in their evaluations of others both in daily life and when making socially consequential judicial decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-124
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Psychology
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014


  • Cortisol
  • Fundamental attribution error
  • Legal decisions
  • Person attributions
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Stressing the person: Legal and everyday person attributions under stress'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this