One of the theories that was most interesting to me when I was taking classes for my MA in Communication was Attribution Theory.
It basically says that people look for cause and reaction in their everyday lives, and in the actions and behaviors of those around them, but that we are more likely to attribute our successes (winning a race, getting a promotion) as internal (we are smarter, stronger, faster, etc than the other guy) and our failures as external ( the other guy cheated, the stakes were unfair, etc) and we are more likely to attribute the successes of other people as external (they were lucky, there was less competition) and other people’s failures as internal (they aren’t as smart, they are lazy, lack motivation, etc).
I feel like this is very applicable in real life, on a pretty much constant basis. We know why we do the things we do, and we all like to see ourselves as good people, so we are able to rationalize our actions and behaviors in a positive way.
We also want to understand why other people do what they do, but since we don’t actually know what their motivation is or what they are thinking or feeling at the time, we basically have to guess, and it can be easy to make judgements about people based on these guesses, even though at the end of the day we really have no idea why that person acted the way they did.
As a personal example, this was a long time ago but I still remember it like it was yesterday, there was a guy from my high school who I kind of knew but not very well. He messaged me online one day, so I was chatting with him, and he told me that he thought I was a stuck up bitch basically, because I never said hello to him, even though he never said anything to me either.
Now, I am kind of awkward and shy if I don’t know people pretty well, that’s just the way it is, so I just figured he was the same way, and never really thought about it again, but he had rationalized to himself that the reason he hadn’t said anything to me was that he was too shy, but that I was deliberately not talking to him because I was stuck up and rude.
We both rationalized each other’s behaviour, and assigned motivation to our actions, even though, really, we had no idea why the other person hadn’t said anything.
That’s just one example, but it happens all the time, to everyone. They say first impressions are everything, but you might miss out on a really great person, or an awesome friend because of a judgement you made about that person based on nothing but your own rationalization of their behaviour.
Try giving people the benefit of the doubt, they might just surprise you.