What is a Self Serving Bias?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 April 2019
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A self serving bias is a cognitive bias that tends to enhance the ego and self confidence of an individual, through a variety of processes. Many people demonstrate this bias on some level or another, since most people have a desire to be successful, strong individuals. Being aware of the processes behind it can help a person to evaluate his or her performance and progress more critically, and it will allow the person to use things like failures as learning experiences.

The classic example of a self serving bias is the tendency of people to attribute success to their personalities and failure to external factors. In this way, people credit themselves for doing well, which enhances their self esteem, and they plead out of responsibility for failures. For example, if a person passes her driving test on the first try, she might say that this was due to the fact that she studied hard and is a good driver. If she fails the test, however, she might blame the examiner, the car, or the weather, rather than admitting that she did not demonstrate safe and effective driving skills.


Another aspect of this bias is the tendency to interpret unclear information in a way that is favorable. For example, if an instructor for a course says that “only two people got As on the final,” a student may assume that one of these persons was himself. Many people also exhibit systemic bias as well; systemic bias involves a personal belief that people perform better in areas that are important to their self esteem. For example, someone who wants to become a doctor might believe that his or her biology skills are better than those of the average person.

The tendency to emphasize success and minimize failure can be very dangerous. By focusing on success only, people cannot learn from their failures. In the driving test example above, for example, the student could admit that she failed because of imperfect driving skills. This admission would allow her to ask the examiner for suggestions in areas that need improvement, so that she could study these weak spots and pass the test on the second try.

The self serving bias can also lead to a situation called self handicapping. Taking the driving test example one step further, if someone is routinely told that she will probably fail on the first time, the student might study and practice less, so that she could blame situational factors like lack of practice for her failure. When someone engages in self handicapping, he or she may seek out safe situations in which success is guaranteed, rather than pushing to do better and risking failure on occasion.


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Post 5

Explain self-serving bias and contrast defensive and secure self-esteem.

Post 4

Suntan12- There are many free psychology books in the library that offer information on experimental social psychology which helps to explain attribution bias.

Books on Gestalt psychology were heavily researched by Fritz Heider. This form of psychology puts a heavier weight on internal views versus external causes. Internal causes would include attitude, motives, and disposition.

While external causes of problems refer to the subject’s environment such as peer pressure and socially acceptable behavior or norms.

Post 3

GreenWeaver-I agree that traditional psychology helps people overcome their problems because when we accept responsibility for our actions is when you can start the healing process.

If you continually blame others, then you will never accept responsibility and will subsequently never heal. Becoming a victim actually takes the power away from the individual leaving them helpless.

There are many interesting aspects to the study of psychological behavior. The individual behavior of a person is the only thing that we should look at in order to help them overcome their problem. While other factors might also contribute to the behavior the focus should be on helping the person overcome the behavior.

Post 2

Cupcake15-I disagree with this form of psychology because it shifts the blame from the individual to outside factors that according to critical psychology are out of the person’s control.

An example would be if a person that lived in a poor neighborhood decided to rob a bank. A critical psychologist would treat the fact that the person is poor as the main factor and blame society because the person was not successful enough to bill their bills.

This almost absolves the person that committed the crime and blames society for this person’s action. Traditional psychology would treat this behavior as deviant and would try to help the person come to the conclusion that this behavior is socially unacceptable.

Traditional psychology would not look at the person’s socioeconomic background. It would treat the behavior of the individual.

Post 1

Critical psychology really is at odds with traditional psychology. This form of psychology really offers a collective form view of psychological aspects of a person.

It is often referred to as radical psychology or Marxist psychology.

Followers of critical psychology feel that a person’s environment plays a larger role in their situation. According to this viewpoint, those with a wealthy background can not be compared with those that are poor.

Followers of this viewpoint discount the psychological difficulties of the wealthy and highlight that of the poor.

Proponents of critical psychology disagree with traditional psychology because they feel that traditional psychology blames the victim and treats the behavior of the victim equally without regard to environmental factors.

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