Oh G-d, A Borderline: Clinical Diagnostics As Fundamental Attribution Error Page: 18
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institutionalized dispositional attribution on the shoulders of the DSM. Indeed this is a trend that
has been at the heart of psychology since psychoanalysis - with an arguable hiatus at the height
Assigning a diagnosis to an individual is one clinical equivalent of the FAE, in that it
takes away the power of the situation and assigns the person an underlying dispositional
pathology that guides their behaviors of clinical interest. Diagnostic work is so fundamental to
psychological interventions that its role exists almost as a truism. The assumption that diagnosis
(or at least the assessment for possible diagnosis) of disorders is an integral first-step in the
therapeutic process remains virtually untested (Rashid & Ostermann, 2009).
The similarities between diagnosis and committing the FAE are quite clear. Snyder
(1977) points out that the tendency begins in training programs, which typically orient clinicians
to view clients' problems in terms of their dispositions. Gilibert and Banovic (2009) resound
Snyder's claim and specifically point to this dispositional process as being heuristic in nature.
Relatedly, clinicians are indeed more likely to identify their clients' problems as rooted in the
personality factors of the client rather than his or her environment (Batson, O' Quin, & Pych,
1982). Indeed, the FAE has been found to influence the process of therapy such that clinicians
focus almost exclusively on attempting to focus the client on himself, without acknowledging the
extent to which the environmental factors of the client's life influence the client's level of
distress (Batson, 1975).
Temerlin (1969) had clinicians listen to an audio recording of an actor portraying a
healthy man. If told that the recording was of a man who, according to a "prestige figure,"
appeared to be in good psychological health, 100% of participants assigned no diagnosis (5%
indicated "mild adjustment problems"). If given no mention regarding psychological health, 43%
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Schmalz, Jonathan. Oh G-d, A Borderline: Clinical Diagnostics As Fundamental Attribution Error, thesis, December 2011; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc103389/m1/24/: accessed January 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .