“The Dress” and the Fundamental Attribution Error

The Black/Blue and White/Gold dress situation caused a stir at my house.

My wife and I work in essentially artistic fields, so color is often a topic. My wife, Jessica, has a Masters in design from NYU and worked in animation on motion pictures and now teaches web design.

She should get colors right, so I was more than disconcerted when she told me this Black and Blue Dress seen below was white and gold.


Is this some sort of conspiracy?

Is this the moment I go off the deep end?

Then I realized, looking “behind” the dress,  it was her brain, well all of our brains, that are broken.

It’s not the color part of your brain, it’s the contextual part of your brain.

As Wired states, how you perceive the dress is based on context, when you are looking at it. Your brain attributes the color to context of WHEN you are looking at the dress, the time of day.

The conscious part of our brain is what is really broken.  The only reason I noticed the cognitive bias to the context of time quickly is that I have been writing about this cognitive bias for the past 6 months. I almost broke my brain getting the first draft of my book explaining how to overcome the Fundamental Attribution Error in your marketing.*

The Blue Black Dress is not about who as much as it it about when and what

The Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) is one of many cognitive biases we have. Cognitive biases are ways our brains our broken when it comes to deciding or rationalizing. The FAE is that we often attribute the decisions and perceptions of a person to who the person is and not their situation. Situation, like the time of day you are view a picture of the dress, is the part of the reason you decide the color you are perceiving.

In truth it is situation that most influences our perception and decision.

Another example:

Maria is an investment banker. She drives up to Starbucks in her Mercedes and buys a drink.  What does she buy?

Now I tell you Maria just got done working out and it’s 90 degrees out.

If you were reading this and it was cold out, you most likely said some expensive coffee drink.

After you found out it was hot out for Maria, you probably changed your mind.

Our perception of how wrong the #WhiteandGold people are is skewed because we can’t understand situation, or even see the Fundamental Attribution Error. We immediately think something is wrong with people’s eyes.

So although my wife is wrong, she is also right (as always), because of the situation.

*Trust me, the book is much more fun to read than that science nerd sentence.

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