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Branded a Cheat

The article below on Tiger Woods demonstrates the halo effect and the fundamental attribution error. The fundamental attribution error describes the tendency to over-value dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors. The ‘halo effect’ is the idea that global evaluations about a person (e.g. she is likeable) bleed over into judgements about their specific traits (e.g., she is intelligent).

Woods’s appeal was based, ultimately, not on his physical abilities but on his mental toughness, his extraordinary capacity for focus and discipline. He was the man who always made the key putt, who never cracked under pressure. That’s why Gatorade, introducing a new drink with his face on the label, called the drink Tiger Focus. And it’s why the most powerful Nike ad about him is the one in which his father, in a voice-over, says, “I’d say, ‘Tiger, I promise you that you’ll never meet another person as mentally tough as you in your entire life. And he hasn’t . . . and he never will.’

In other words, Woods has been presented as the embodiment of bourgeois virtues: dedication, hard work, single-mindedness. Indeed, when, in 2008, Woods won the U.S. Open while essentially playing on one leg, the Times’ David Brooks devoted a column to his extraordinary ability to block out distraction and focus on the matter at hand, dubbing him “the exemplar of mental discipline” for our time. For millions of people–many of them, to be sure, affluent middle-aged white guys–Woods embodied an approach not just to golf but to life.

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