Actor–observer asymmetry (also actor–observer bias) explains the errors that one makes when forming attributions about the behavior of others (Jones & Nisbett, 1971). When people judge their own behavior, and they are the actor, they are more likely to attribute their actions to the particular situation than to a generalization about their personality. Yet when an observer is explaining the behavior of another person (the actor), they are more likely to attribute this behavior to the actors’s overall disposition rather than to situational factors. This frequent error shows the bias that people hold in their evaluations of behavior (Miller & Norman, 1975). Because people are better acquainted with the situational (external) factors affecting their own decisions, they are more likely to see their own behavior as affected by the social situation they are in. However, because the situational effects of anothers’ behavior are less accessible to the observer, observers see the actor’s behavior as influenced more by the actor’s overall personality. The actor-observer asymmetry is a component of the ultimate attribution error.
This term falls under “attribution” or “attribution theory”. The specific hypothesis of an actor-observer asymmetry in attribution (explanations of behavior) was originally proposed by Jones and Nisbett (1971), when they claimed that “actors tend to attribute the causes of their behavior to stimuli inherent in the situation, while observers tend to attribute behavior to stable dispositions of the actor” (p. 93). Supported by initial evidence, the hypothesis was long held as firmly established, describing a robust and pervasive phenomenon of social cognition.