Self-Serving Bias is a tendency to see oneself favorably in the eyes of others. It can happen when we compare ourselves to others, with positive or negative events, with not taking responsibility for one’s actions, and believing we are above others. It can also happen when we have an unrealistic optimism about one’s life, and false consensus or uniqueness in life. It is thinking everyone else agrees with how you think to excuse yourself from a certain behavior or trying to stand out by being “unique”, so certain attributes are like everyone else’s so I’m “different.” (Myers, 2018)
We have to guard against self-bias while learning to be open to other’s thoughts and ideas. Guarding against self-bias is being accountable when making mistakes and learning to forgive yourself.
Examples of self-serving bias
One example is protecting a friend by telling them “It isn’t their fault” when something is their fault to make them feel at ease. Another example is when someone does well on a test and they say they studied all night but when they do poorly, the teacher is blamed. Another example is when a person is late for work, and they blame traffic or the person driving ahead of them instead of the person really waking up late instead.
A peer reviewed article I came across called Self-Serving Bias in Memories and in two experiments, participants judged whether two-character trait adjectives (positive or negative) described themselves or others. The participants’ source memory was worse in the negative self-referenced word processing condition than in the other conditions. Therefore, there is a self-serving bias in our memory for the connection between valence information and the self. It is stated that, “this is probably because people integrate self-related positive information into stored self-knowledge but keep negative information separate” (Zhang et. al., 2018, p. 243). Self-protection refers to the motivation for defending positive components of the self-image against harm (Sedikides, Skowronski, & Gaertner, 2004).
In another article I came across called Self-Serving Bias: Why Some Leaders Don’t Learn From Their Mistakes, it mentions Alan Greenspan who was instrumental in determining U.S. financial policy for 19 years. Alan Greenspan does not feel that he was responsible for the failure of the policy he helped create. Though he put the blame on everything but himself even in his testimony, appeared to blame the fall of the Berlin Wall, but did he consciously mislead the commission? Probably not. “Without actually being Alan Greenspan, I can’t say for sure, but the odds are good that he really does believe he’s not to blame” (Halvorson, 2011)
I think we can all relate to all of these examples one way or another as much as we may not want to admit to them. We tend to see the positive in ourselves primarily but to be accountable for our mistakes can be challenging.
Myers, D. (2018). Social Psychology (13th Edition). McGraw-Hill Higher Education (US). (Links to an external site.)
Zhang, Y., Pan, Z., Li, K., & Guo, Y. (2018). Self-Serving Bias in Memories. Experimental Psychology, 65(4), 236-244.
Halvorson, H. (2011, February 22). Self-Serving Bias: Why Some Leaders Don’t Learn From Their Mistakes. The blog Self-Serving Bias: Why Some Leaders Don’t Learn From Their Mistakes | HuffPost Life (Links to an external site.)