On November 5, 2009, during a soccer match between the University of New Mexico and Brigham Young University, UNM defender Elizabeth Lambert behaved badly. She kicked and punched other players and even pulled another woman's pony tail, causing her to fall to the ground. A video of Lambert's behavior was quickly posted on the internet causing her much embarrassment and shame. In an interview with the New York Times, Lambert admitted that the video makes her look like a monster. She also said, "That is not me," "I can't believe I did that," and "That's not the type of player I am." Most people, however, disagree with her, and explanations of her behavior have focused almost exclusively on her personality.
People seem to think that Lambert's actions on the field reflect a deep-seated anger, moral defect, or unconscious conflict. It has also been suggested that Lambert has "a lot of sexual aggression" (Longman, 2009, p. B11). In support of this "poor character" hypothesis, one blogger, a psychologist, even quoted scripture stating, "a good tree cannot bear bad fruit" (Matthew 7: 18-21). These simple explanations are comforting, because they reaffirm what most people already believe: Good people do good things and bad people do bad things. However, they neglect the findings of social psychology, which show that behavior is a function of the person and the situation.
Explanations that focus on Lambert's personality tend to neglect the context in which her behavior occurred. This tendency, to attribute behavior to personality rather than situational factors is called the "fundamental attribution error" (Ross, 1977). It was first described by Heider and later developed by Jones (Jones & Davis, 1965). Likewise, people tend to attribute their own behavior to situational factors and other people's behavior to dispositional factors. This tendency is called the "actor-observer bias" (Jones & Nisbett, 1971). Accordingly, Lambert says that, during the game, she was frustrated, because she was called names, elbowed, taken to the ground with cheap shots, and her shorts were tugged at. Of course, many factors, both dispositional and situational, caused Lambert to behave as she did.