I haven't been in cognitive sciences for long, but in my work I have noticed a curious pattern: Individuals who overwhelmingly attribute the responsibility of their own actions to external causes, accuse others of behavioral patterns that represent the same patterns that they themselves do not accept to be guilty of.

Or maybe it's the other causal direction; they see others being guilty of certain behavioral patterns and subconsciously start behaving in the same ways.

For example: A patient who sees sexual predators in most men, sometimes in very subtle behavioral traits, accuses her partners of not respecting her decisions, of reversal of guilt, etc. However in the process of the accusation, she is unable to accept her partners' decisions ("He doesn't want to continue the relationship, but he doesn't care that I want to"), is uncompromising (Does not accept to establish a basis of communication) and blames them for her lack of communication ("I should not have to always be able to show you what I don't want, it is your responsibility to know.").

What I am interested in is; is there science on this that confirms my observation, or even a name or field of research for it? If yes, are there explanations on why this paradoxical attribution of responsibility happens?

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    $\begingroup$ @ArnonWeinberg Not so much a duplicate question, as the answer to that question ('projection' in particular) might incidentally answer this one as well. :) Don't know the best way to deal with this. I would be okay with you answering again here. $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 11:11
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    $\begingroup$ @StevenJeuris - imo questions should be dupe-closed only when there is a dupe question. Answers with similar content on different questions do not warrant closing a question. Questions with slight different nuance become more common as a site matures. That shouldn't lead to massive dupe-closing. Exact duplicate answers (copy-paste) are obviously discouraged, as the questions will likely differ a bit. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ @ArnonWeinberg I think it might just be projection, does projection appear in those subtle subconscious forms? Take the example from my question: is it just ironic that she makes the same mistakes that she accuses others of (in the process of accusing them!), or is there a subconscious mechanism / would that be projection? $\endgroup$
    – Olfway
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ I only answered the terminology part of the question. These types of defense mechanisms are typically explained using cognitive dissonance and/or self-perception theories, but these theories are not so straightforward to apply to broad patterns of behaviour, so I prefer not to speculate too much. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 18:58

1 Answer 1


Your first paragraph, in particular, reminds me of the 'fundamental attribution error':

... the fundamental attribution error (FAE), also known as the correspondence bias or attribution effect, is the claim that in contrast to interpretations of their own behavior, people place undue emphasis on internal characteristics of the agent (character or intention), rather than external factors, in explaining other people's behavior.

  • $\begingroup$ I thought that but then is it a cognitive bias at all? Or is it projection or reaction formation as described in the possible duplicate? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 15:07

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