In light of the recent protests in Hong Kong, I’ve decided to write about the Fundamental Attribution Error. It is really sad to see what is happening in my hometown, helplessly reading the news online 7,785 miles away.
For those who need a snapshot on what’s happening:
On September 27, the Hong Kong police force shocked the public by using pepper spray and tear gas against peaceful protestors. Many were immediately appalled by the action, myself included. After that, the protest took a turn to target the police (instead of the Chinese officials).
However, we shouldn’t blame the police.
There’s a psychology theory called the Fundamental Attribution Error (or Correspondence Bias).
It says that people have a tendency to underestimate the effect of external situations on individual’s actions. By doing so, it is easy for people to jump to conclusions, without knowing the whole story.
In the classic experiment, people were asked to write a paragraph that’s either pro- or anti- Fidel Castro. The readers were TOLD that these writers were randomly assigned to each group, thus have no choice of writing what they really believed in. However, when rating whether the writers were pro-Castro, the readers still insisted that those who wrote in favor of Castro must be truly a pro-Castro person and should be frowned upon. Remember, the writers had no choice on which side to write about.
Implications for Hong Kong
Switching back to the police force in Hong Kong. It’s easy for us as spectators, unarmed civilians and individuals eager to participate as well as help the movement, to blame it on the police. It might seem like they’re supporting the Chinese government. We come up with ludicrous suggestions that they should quit their jobs or go on a strike if they want to support the movement. However, do we really know what they’re going through right now? Their true opinions on the issue might not be what their actions suggest.
I’m deeply concerned that we’re targeting the wrong group. I am uncertain how this movement for democracy is going to proceed. What I do know is that we should not go against the police – our very own police.
Stay safe everyone, back home and abroad.