The blame game when things go wrong

In his letter, Mr Paul Huan Soo Hai highlighted a distinctive difference between two peoples - Britons and Singaporeans ("Appreciation of S'pore policies from a British perspective"; Tuesday).

Why are Britons not as prone to complaining as Singaporeans notoriously are?

Psychologists have a term to describe people who assume responsibility for the choices they make and for the outcomes of their choices - self-efficacy.

People who have self-efficacy see themselves as capable of determining the outcome of a decision. They have a surer sense of control or influence over life circumstances.

Hence, they avoid making the "fundamental error of attribution" when things don't turn out the way they expect - blaming others and external factors as causes of their unhappy encounter, while excusing or absolving themselves of blame.

What contributes to or diminishes self-efficacy?

In a culture where children are generally "spoon-fed" and not allowed to make mistakes, we tend to raise dependent people who can't see how they can survive without external help.

They tend to be deprived of the critical opportunity of learning from experience, which is to suffer the consequences of a bad choice.

Overprotective caregivers, be they parents or the government, though well meaning, can unwittingly nurture a complaining lot of people who are not used to taking primary responsibility for their decisions or choices in life.

People accustomed to and raised in such a protective environment are prone to commit the "fundamental error of attribution" when things don't go their way.

We need to ask ourselves, if this is largely true, is this the course to continue on in how we care for our children and our people?

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'The blame game when things go wrong'. Print Edition | Subscribe