In the mid 1940s, Fritz Heider and Mary-Ann Simmel constructed a simple film animation similar to the one shown below. They asked observers to describe what they saw in the film. Most observers developed elaborate stories about the circle and the little triangle being in love, about the big-bad grey triangle trying to steal away the circle, about the blue triangle fighting back, yelling to his love to escape into the house, and following her inside where they embraced and lived happily ever after.
|Scooped by Sharrock|
This theory was explored in Thinking Fast and Slow. Saying it is psychological transference seems to be inaccurate. In the book, it was introduced as the person's ability to attribute actions and intentions, even emotions, to objects. In the study shared, there was a large triangle, a two other smaller shapes. They were animated. children viewing the animation readily interpreted the large triangle as a bully that was bullying a smaller shape and that the other shape came to help defend against the bully. They were only shapes. They didn't even have faces. Kahneman also shared that this attribution did not occur with people with autism.
This tendency to attribute intentions can create problems when dealing with using anecdotes as evidence and may be the cause of disagreements. I'm still reading Kahneman's book, but I do wonder how attribution theory and transference are related as models.
In many ways, this contributes to the uncomfortable argument that we don't know ourselves and don't really understand others. Although people exist outside of ourselves, we can impose our interpretations of their actions without much effort (system one). In a way, we "live" in a different world, a parallel world, to the worlds of others. Without developed critical thinking skills, we might not often "correct" our misinterpretations. This attribution theory or inference theory seem to be theories for why we suffer from chronic cognitive biases and fall victim to logical fallacies.