FAE Revisited: The Power of Context

My apologies for not posting to the blog for a while. I’ve been working on a book which I’m happy to say is scheduled to come out in April 2018. The book is called The Power of Context: How to Manage Our Bias and Improve Our Understanding of Others. It’s being advertised at multiple book sites, including the two below.



My thanks to Prometheus Books as we have worked together to stay on schedule.

The Power of Context tries to capture some of the messages of my PARBs Anonymous blog: that we are all people at risk of bias (PARBs), that being open to the possibility of our own biases can play an important role in reducing biases, and that one very common form of bias is to overlook the context in judging others.

As discussed in one of my first blog articles, overlooking or underestimating the context in judging others is called the fundamental attribution error or FAE. I titled that article “The Big One,” because of how common, robust, and wide-reaching the FAE is.

In “The Big One,” I discussed a classic driving example, in which we get upset at that stupid other driver, who is driving stupidly because of an emergency. My book has other driving examples, including the unfortunate case of road rage.

Road ragers may be committing the FAE against us for some imagined slight against them, or we may be committing the FAE against road ragers (or both). It turns out that road rage is often preceded by an extreme negative life event for the road rager, such as job loss or divorce (Mizell, 1997). Not that road rage can ever be excused.

The Power of Context extends discussion of the FAE to many other examples, including misinterpreting facial expressions and other nonverbal behaviors. In particular, it turns out that reading emotions from faces is not as simple as we thought.

Other examples of the FAE in my book include victim blaming, prejudice, and the overrated “gaydar.” There are many political examples as well.

Some cases of the FAE can represent sensitive combinations from multiple arenas, as in the puzzle of why some African American football players take a knee during the national anthem. This issue did not make it into my book, but it is a case of risky nonverbal decoding in both a racial and political context (St. Félix, 2017). Asking the athletes why they do it can clarify, not that you have to agree with their choice of behavior. I may return to this topic in a later blog article.

The Power of Context also provides numerous strategies to reduce bias. These strategies include some of the suggestions at PARBs Anonymous, such as to learn about biases and to slow down our thinking. As I discuss at length in my book, learning about biases is probably not enough to substantially reduce biases, but it can help.

It’s been four years since I’ve launched this blog and website. I haven’t written as many PARBs articles as I might’ve first envisioned, but my book in many ways represents an outgrowth of this website. Some of my PARBs articles were instructive in writing some of my book chapters.

And The Power of Context represents much of what motivated me to start this website, including the belief that social psychology can help bring more peace to society.



Mizell, L. (1997). Aggressive driving. Washington, DC: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

St. Félix, D. (September 24, 2017). What will taking the knee mean now? New Yorker. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-appearances/what-will-taking-the-knee-mean-now

Stalder, D. R. (forthcoming). The power of context: How to manage our bias and improve our understanding of others. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books.


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