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What is Self-Serving Bias – Causes & Examples

Published by at July 17th, 2023 , Revised On September 1, 2023

We are often unconscious of certain psychological pressures that impact our actions. We remember information to support our views. Because of a self-serving bias, our judgments are shaded by our self-interest when we try to be neutral and fair. This blog concerns this cognitive bias and how it impacts our everyday lives. Let’s understand the self-serving bias definition in detail. 

What is Self-Serving Bias?

‘’Self-serving bias is the propensity for people to blame their failures on outside forces or uncontrollable situations while attributing their accomplishments to personal qualities or internal variables.’’

It is a cognitive bias that aids in preserving self-esteem and a favourable self-perception. People frequently claim responsibility for their accomplishments while distancing themselves from their mistakes by placing the blame elsewhere. Decision-making, interpersonal relationships, academic or professional success, and other facets of life can all be impacted by this bias.

What is Self-Serving Bias Vs Confirmation Bias?

Self-serving bias involves attributing positive outcomes to internal and negative outcomes to external factors to protect one’s self-esteem. Confirmation bias refers to the tendency to seek, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms one’s existing beliefs or biases. 

While self-serving bias is focused on preserving a positive self-image, confirmation bias is centred around seeking information that aligns with preconceived notions.

What are the Causes of Self-Serving Bias?

Self-serving bias has various psychological and cognitive roots that might be identified. The fundamental human need to preserve and build self-esteem is a significant contributing component. 

The following are some causes of self-serving bias: 

  • Maintenance of Self-Esteem

People tend to safeguard and build their self-esteem. Maintaining a positive self-image involves taking responsibility for accomplishments and blaming failures on outside forces.

  • Attributional Procedures

How people assign causes to events or results affects self-serving bias. People frequently attribute success internally (e.g., personal qualities, effort) and externally (e.g., luck, situational circumstances) to failure.

  • Social Comparison

Making comparisons with others can impact self-serving prejudice. To feel better about their abilities and accomplishments, people frequently compare themselves to those in worse situations.

  • Culture

Different cultures may have different levels of self-serving bias. Comparatively to collectivistic cultures, which prioritise interdependence and social harmony, individualistic cultures, which place a premium on individual success and autonomy, may display a stronger self-serving tendency.

How to Overcome Self-Serving Bias?

Overcoming self-serving bias psychology is important. But how to avoid self-serving bias? Here are a few ways. 

  • Accept challenges, see failures as teaching moments, and accept full accountability for your choices and results. The following are some ways by which you can get some idea of how to avoid self-serving bias:
  • Encourage self-awareness by being mindful of your thoughts, actions, and attributions. Be aware of any impulses to externalise failures or to credit your abilities alone for success.
  • Actively seek feedback from others, whether from mentors, friends, or coworkers. Openly hear what they say, and consider their accomplishments and shortcomings.
  • Adopt a growth mentality by accepting failures as chances for development and learning. Recognise that failures and errors are necessary for learning, not a reflection of one’s value or aptitude.
  • Accept responsibility for your choices and results, both good and bad. Recognise that certain elements are under your control, and outside factors can also be at play.
  • Challenge your initial conclusions and consider additional factors for the results. Adopt a more objective and balanced perspective by considering internal and external circumstances.
  • Develop empathy for others by taking into account their viewpoints and experiences. This can assist in reversing the propensity only to see one’s favourable attributes.
  • Consider your prejudices, including self-serving bias, regularly. Take time to reflect on your thoughts, behaviours, and biases by journaling about them.
  • Exercises in empathy and perspective-taking are other effective tactics. Actively look for ways to comprehend and relate to the experiences and viewpoints of others. 
  • You can have a deeper knowledge of the intricate aspects influencing outcomes by placing yourself in someone else’s situation. This larger viewpoint reverses the natural tendency to concentrate only on personal attributions. 
  • Perspective-taking enables you to weigh various theories, appreciate other people’s efforts, and understand outside forces’ influence on successes and failures.

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What are Some Daily Life Examples of Self-Serving Bias?

All of us can relate to self-serving psychology. The following are some self-serving bias examples:

Example of the Self-Serving Bias in Sport

Let’s say a basketball player named Alex is playing in a competitive match. Alex scores several points during the game and makes crucial plays contributing to the team’s victory. After the game, when interviewed, Alex attributes the win to their exceptional skills, hard work, and strategic decisions on the court. Alex downplays any external factors or luck that may have affected the outcome.

However, in a subsequent game where Alex performs poorly, and the team loses, Alex attributes the loss to factors beyond their control. They might blame the referee’s decisions, weather conditions, or even their teammates for insufficient support. Alex minimises personal responsibility for the defeat and focuses on external factors that explain the poor performance.

Examples of the Self-Serving Bias in the Workplaces

Let’s understand some self-serving bias examples in the workplace:

  • Performance Reviews

Employees who receive a favourable performance review may put the majority of the credit on their qualities, competencies, and efforts. They could minimise the contributions of coworkers or other forces since they think their accomplishments are the consequence of their diligence and skill. 

On the other hand, if they get a bad assessment, they could blame outside forces like biased management or challenging conditions rather than taking ownership of their actions.

  • Project Successes and Failures

Employees may credit their knowledge, initiative, and decision-making abilities for a project’s success. They need to recognise how other team members’ contributions or good fortune contributed. However, the employee may blame it if the initiative is unsuccessful or suffers setbacks.

  • Promotions and Career Advancements

If an employee gets a raise or a promotion, they might credit their great work and skills. They might think the recognition and advancement resulted from their abilities and diligence. 

In contrast, if they have career setbacks or are passed over for a promotion, they could blame politics, unfair competition, or biased decision-making rather than look at their weaknesses or skill gaps.

  • The Success of Team Projects

In a team environment, an individual may credit their personal contributions, ideas, and efforts with a project’s success. They could overestimate their contribution to achieving desirable results while underestimating that of their coworkers. 

On the other side, if the project is unsuccessful or encounters difficulties, they could be more inclined to blame it on the flaws or errors of the other team members rather than owning up to their part in the outcome.

Example of the Self-Serving Bias in Relationship Conflicts

Blaming a relationship breakdown solely on the other person’s flaws or mistakes while failing to acknowledge one’s contribution or taking responsibility for personal shortcomings.

Example of the Self-Serving Bias in Driving and Traffic

Believing that one’s driving skills are superior and attributing traffic violations or accidents to external factors such as bad road conditions or other drivers’ mistakes.

Example of the Self-Serving Bias in Academic Performance

Taking credit for a high grade on an exam by attributing it solely to personal intelligence and study habits while attributing a low grade to external factors like a difficult test or an unfair grading system.

Example of the Self-Serving Bias in  Financial Success and Failure

Believing that personal financial success results from superior decision-making and intelligence while attributing financial difficulties to external factors like a poor economy or bad luck.

Frequently Asked Questions

Self-serving bias refers to the tendency of individuals to attribute their successes to internal factors, such as their own abilities or efforts, while attributing failures to external factors, such as luck or circumstances. It is a cognitive bias that helps protect one’s self-esteem and maintain a positive self-image.

Self-serving bias responsibility refers to the tendency of individuals to take credit for their successes and positive outcomes while avoiding or downplaying responsibility for failures or negative outcomes. It involves selectively attributing achievements to internal factors and blaming external factors for failures, ultimately preserving one’s self-image and avoiding feelings of guilt or shame.

The causes of self-serving bias include self-esteem maintenance, attributional processes, and selective attention/memory.

To avoid self-serving bias, practice self-reflection, seek feedback, consider alternative perspectives, and promote a growth mindset.

About Owen Ingram

Avatar for Owen IngramIngram is a dissertation specialist. He has a master's degree in data sciences. His research work aims to compare the various types of research methods used among academicians and researchers.