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We are cognitive misers; we don’t like to think very much

Written by Jose Caballero

As I pay for my apricot hamantaschen at Whole Foods with my sister, the cashier was being rude to the customer in front of us. The individual rapidly said, "You're such an asshole," and left. However, as they left the store, I noticed that the cashier started crying, and someone told her "everything is going to be okay." We later discovered that this cashier had lost her mother a month ago, was struggling with her mental well-being, and had to work double shifts to pay for her necessities. This scenario perfectly portrays the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE).

The FAE is pretty common in social psychology, and it’s the tendency we have to attribute others’ behavior to their personality (in the previous scenario, "asshole" serves as the attribution of the behavior) and ignore external factors that are influencing that behavior. This is prevalent in our daily lives because it is so easy to attribute someone’s mental struggle to their "weakness," when in reality, we all have different coping mechanisms and different ways to manage our emotions and stressors.

But we always attribute our behavior to external causes. Because if you trip, it’s because you’re clumsy. But, if I trip, it’s because something got in my way. This is called the Actor Observer Effect --- the tendency to attribute your own behavior to external causes but others’ to internal causes.

These social psychology concepts apply to our everyday lives. Most of the time, I hear comments like "you're just lazy" or "put more effort" when someone is struggling or dealing with a struggle. It is easy to attribute and give a reason to why someone might be feeling a certain way, but it is difficult to empathize with and comprehend the external factors that might be influencing the behavior of that individual. Sometimes not everything is attributable to simply being lazy. Your coping mechanisms and support system are completely different from mine and your friends'. Therefore, it is crucial to understand that everyone deals with and copes with stressors differently.

Always remember that you are not "lazy." You are a human with limits, dealing with a lot at once. You deserve periods of rest and reflection.

Living in this complex world, it is important to understand that everyone has a bad day, everyone struggles with something, and everyone has mental health to take care of. It’s crucial to understand that we are always trying to survive. I mean, isn’t that our main goal in life? The point of this entry is to raise awareness of the fact that, just as you have issues, worries, and concerns, so do others. Be kind to people; you can literally make someone else’s day better by just being kind.

Feeling out of touch?

Check out these mental health resources from Mental Health America, particularly the screening tests. Depression and anxiety are real, frequent, and treatable mental health problems. And there is hope for healing. Online screening is one of the quickest and easiest ways to find out if you have symptoms of a mental health disorder. Check out Mental Health America resources as well :)

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