The article was last updated by Samantha Choi on January 30, 2024.

Have you ever noticed how people tend to attribute their successes to their own abilities, while blaming failures on external factors? This tendency is known as self-serving bias, and it can have a significant impact on our perception, behavior, and relationships.

In this article, we will explore the different types of self-serving bias, its causes, and the ways it can affect our behavior. We will also discuss the consequences of self-serving bias and provide strategies for overcoming it. So, let’s dive into the fascinating world of self-serving bias and its implications in psychology.

What Is Self-Serving Bias?

Self-serving bias refers to the tendency to attribute positive outcomes to internal factors and negative outcomes to external factors, affecting how individuals perceive and interpret their own achievements and failures in various situations within the field of cognitive psychology.

It influences the way people make sense of their own actions and behaviors, often leading to a biased view of their abilities and contributions.

This bias can be deeply ingrained and impact decision-making, problem-solving, and interpersonal relationships.

Within cognitive psychology, researchers study how this bias shapes an individual’s self-image, motivation, and behavior, shedding light on the complexities of human cognition and perception.

How Does Self-Serving Bias Affect Our Perception?

Self-serving bias significantly influences our perception by shaping how we attribute outcomes, contributing to the actor-observer bias and the fundamental attribution error, thus impacting our cognitive interpretation of events and achievements.

When individuals exhibit self-serving bias, they tend to attribute positive events and successes to their own internal characteristics, such as abilities or efforts, while attributing negative events to external factors, such as luck or situational influences.

This biased perception protects their self-esteem and enhances their self-image, shaping their view of themselves and their achievements. The self-serving bias plays a pivotal role in the attribution processes, influencing how individuals make sense of others’ behavior and their own.

What Are The Different Types Of Self-Serving Bias?

Different types of self-serving bias include the actor-observer bias and the fundamental attribution error, each influencing how individuals perceive and attribute outcomes in various contexts within the field of cognitive psychology.

The actor-observer bias refers to the tendency for individuals to attribute their own behavior to external factors, while attributing others’ behavior to internal characteristics. This bias often leads to the overestimation of situational influence on one’s own actions and the underestimation of others’ situational factors.

On the other hand, the fundamental attribution error occurs when individuals attribute others’ behaviors to internal traits rather than considering situational factors. This bias can lead to misinterpretations of others’ actions and intentions.

What Are The Causes Of Self-Serving Bias?

The causes of self-serving bias stem from internal and external attributions, influenced by cognitive biases and cultural factors, impacting how individuals interpret and attribute outcomes based on internal and external factors.

Self-serving bias occurs when individuals tend to attribute successful outcomes to their own abilities, while attributing failure or negative outcomes to external factors such as situational constraints or luck.

Internally, individuals may possess a cognitive bias that leads them to selectively focus on information that supports their self-enhancing beliefs and attitudes, contributing to a distorted perception of their abilities and actions.

Externally, cultural influences can shape the way individuals interpret and explain their own behavior, as well as the behavior of others, affecting their self-attribution processes.

These multifaceted causes of self-serving bias highlight the complex interplay of internal and external attributions, cognitive biases, and cultural influences in shaping individuals’ interpretations of outcomes.


One of the causes of self-serving bias is self-esteem, as individuals with higher self-esteem may be more prone to attribute positive outcomes to internal factors and negative outcomes to external factors, potentially influencing motivation and affecting cognitive biases related to depression.

This interplay between self-esteem and self-serving bias reveals the profound impact of self-perception on the interpretation of events. People with high self-esteem tend to see successes as evidence of their abilities, fostering a sense of enablement and drive.

On the other hand, they may be quick to attribute failures to external factors, protecting their self-worth but potentially leading to unrealistic optimism and a lack of accountability. This pattern can exacerbate cognitive biases associated with depression, such as selective attention to negative stimuli and hopelessness about the future.

Attribution Bias

Attribution bias, such as locus of control, age, and gender, can contribute to self-serving bias by influencing how individuals attribute outcomes to internal or external factors based on their perceived control over the situation and demographic characteristics.

The locus of control refers to the extent to which individuals believe they can control events affecting them. This belief can impact their tendency to make internal or external attributions.

Age plays a significant role, as younger individuals may attribute outcomes more to external factors, while older individuals may tend to attribute them internally. Gender can also shape attributions, with research indicating that men are more likely to make internal attributions, while women are more likely to make external ones.

Social Comparison

Social comparison, influenced by individualistic and collectivist cultures and cross-cultural differences, can contribute to self-serving bias by shaping how individuals evaluate their own achievements and failures relative to others, impacting their attribution of outcomes.

In individualistic cultures, there is an emphasis on standing out and achieving personal goals. This often leads individuals to compare themselves to others in a competitive manner. They may attribute their successes to internal factors and failures to external ones.

On the other hand, collectivist cultures prioritize harmony and interdependence. This fosters a tendency to adjust self-evaluations based on the well-being of the group. As a result, individuals may exhibit modesty and share attribution of achievements and blame for failures.

How Does Self-Serving Bias Impact Our Behavior?

Self-serving bias influences our behavior by leading to inflated self-esteem, blaming others for failures, taking credit for success, and fostering unrealistic optimism, affecting our conduct in various settings such as the workplace and influencing our emotional responses to outcomes.

When individuals exhibit self-serving bias, they often perceive themselves more favorably than others, resulting in a positive impact on their self-esteem. In the context of the workplace, this bias can lead to overconfidence and a tendency to overestimate one’s capabilities, potentially affecting decision-making and teamwork.

The attribution of outcomes is heavily influenced by self-serving bias. Individuals tend to attribute their successes to internal factors such as skill or effort, while attributing failures to external factors like bad luck or others’ actions.

This biased attribution can lead to a lack of accountability and hinder personal and professional growth. Self-serving bias can elicit emotional responses, such as frustration and resentment when facing unfavorable outcomes, further impacting behavior and interactions within the workplace.

Inflated Self-Esteem

Self-serving bias can result in inflated self-esteem, particularly in individualistic cultures, where individuals may tend to attribute positive outcomes to internal factors, contributing to an exaggerated sense of self-worth and achievement.

In contrast, in collectivist cultures, individuals are more likely to attribute success to external factors such as the support of their community or family, which can mitigate the impact of self-serving bias on self-esteem.

This link between self-serving bias and inflated self-esteem has significant implications for individual well-being and interpersonal relationships, as it can influence how individuals perceive their abilities and contributions within their social and cultural context.

Blaming Others For Failures

Self-serving bias can lead individuals to blame others for their failures, impacting interpersonal dynamics in the workplace and potentially influencing cognitive biases related to depression and emotional well-being.

This phenomenon often arises from the innate human tendency to protect self-esteem and confidence. When faced with a setback or failure, individuals may subconsciously rationalize their own shortcomings by attributing the blame to external factors or other people, rather than taking full responsibility for their actions.

In the workplace, this behavior can create tension, hinder teamwork, and erode trust among colleagues. Furthermore, self-serving bias can exacerbate feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, contributing to a negative cycle that may lead to depression or other mental health challenges.

Taking Credit For Success

Self-serving bias encourages individuals to take credit for success, affecting their behavior in the workplace and potentially influencing motivation, particularly in relation to age-related factors and the perception of achievement.

Studies have shown that individuals tend to attribute their successes to internal factors within themselves, such as their abilities and efforts, while attributing failures to external factors, such as situational or environmental influences.

This cognitive bias has significant implications for workplace dynamics, as it can lead to conflicts over recognition and contribute to a lack of teamwork and cooperation. Age-related factors can play a role in shaping individuals’ susceptibility to self-serving bias, as younger individuals may be more prone to seeking recognition and validation, while older individuals may prioritize collective accomplishments over self-aggrandizement. Understanding the impact of self-serving bias in the workplace is essential for fostering a collaborative and cohesive organizational culture.

Unrealistic Optimism

Self-serving bias fosters unrealistic optimism in individuals, influencing their expectations and emotional responses to outcomes, potentially affected by cultural influences and cognitive biases associated with depression.

Studies have shown that individuals tend to attribute positive events to their own character or actions, while negative events are often attributed to external factors, reflecting the self-serving bias.

This bias contributes to an inflated sense of control over outcomes, leading to overestimation of success likelihood and underestimation of potential risks. It engenders a sense of invulnerability, which can impact individuals’ emotional responses and decision-making processes.

What Are The Consequences Of Self-Serving Bias?

The consequences of self-serving bias include strained relationships, difficulty accepting criticism, and hindering personal growth, impacting individuals’ emotional responses and interpersonal dynamics in various contexts.

Self-serving bias can lead individuals to interpret situations in ways that preserve their self-esteem, often at the expense of objective reality. It can result in an inability to acknowledge one’s own faults, leading to strained relationships as people may struggle to accept responsibility or empathize with others’ perspectives.

Individuals influenced by self-serving bias may find it difficult to accept constructive criticism, as they tend to attribute negative feedback to external factors rather than their own actions or behavior. This resistance to criticism can impede personal development and hinder opportunities for growth and learning.

Furthermore, self-serving bias can limit individuals’ willingness to explore their own strengths and weaknesses, creating a barrier to self-improvement. It can contribute to a lack of introspection, potentially hindering personal growth and preventing individuals from realizing their full potential.

Strained Relationships

Self-serving bias can lead to strained relationships, particularly influenced by cultural factors and cross-cultural differences, affecting how individuals interact and interpret each other’s behavior and achievements.

This bias, prevalent across various cultures, fosters a tendency for individuals to attribute positive outcomes to their own abilities and efforts while attributing negative outcomes to external factors, such as luck or other people’s actions.

This can create misunderstandings and conflicts within relationships, as it skews perceptions and leads to miscommunication.

The cultural emphasis on individualism or collectivism can significantly shape the manifestation of self-serving bias within different societies, impacting relationship dynamics and harmony.

Difficulty Accepting Criticism

Self-serving bias may result in difficulty accepting criticism, particularly in the workplace, influencing individuals’ emotional responses and potentially affecting cognitive biases related to self-esteem and depression.

When individuals exhibit self-serving bias, they tend to interpret feedback in a way that protects their self-image and minimizes feelings of vulnerability.

This can lead to defensive reactions and emotional distress when faced with criticism. In a workplace setting, this bias can disrupt effective communication, hinder constructive feedback, and strain professional relationships.

Such challenges can impede personal growth, diminish collaboration, and impact overall organizational productivity. Self-serving bias has been linked to cognitive biases related to self-esteem and depression, as individuals’ distorted interpretations of feedback may exacerbate negative self-perceptions and contribute to feelings of inadequacy.

Hinders Personal Growth

Self-serving bias hinders personal growth by influencing individuals’ willingness to acknowledge and learn from their shortcomings, potentially impacting their emotional well-being and behavior, especially in the workplace and in relation to age-related factors.

Self-serving bias can create a protective shield, preventing individuals from recognizing their own faults as they may be inclined to attribute successes to their abilities, while blaming failures on external factors. This bias can lead to stagnation in personal development, hindering self-improvement and growth opportunities.

In workplace settings, the influence of self-serving bias can manifest in various ways, such as reluctance to accept feedback or take responsibility for mistakes. This can impede collaboration, productivity, and overall work environment dynamics.

Age-related factors can exacerbate the impact of self-serving bias, as individuals may become more entrenched in their beliefs and less open to change, hindering their adaptability and learning capacity.

How Can We Overcome Self-Serving Bias?

We can overcome self-serving bias by practicing self-awareness, seeking feedback from others, and considering multiple perspectives, which may be influenced by cultural factors and individual differences in the perception of outcomes.

Self-awareness involves recognizing our own biases and motivations, which enables us to better understand how they influence our judgments and decisions.

Seeking feedback from others offers different viewpoints, helping us to identify potential biases and blind spots. Considering multiple perspectives encourages us to consider diverse viewpoints and minimize the influence of our own biases.

Cultural factors and individual differences play a crucial role in shaping how individuals perceive outcomes, making it essential to acknowledge these influences when addressing self-serving bias.

Practice Self-Awareness

One approach to overcoming self-serving bias is through the practice of self-awareness, which involves recognizing and challenging cognitive biases related to emotions and cultural influences that shape our interpretations of outcomes.

When individuals develop a keen sense of self-awareness, they become more attuned to their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This allows for a deeper understanding of how their biases may affect their judgment.

Through this introspective process, individuals can pinpoint instances where their self-serving bias may influence their perceptions and decisions. By acknowledging and understanding the impact of cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias or the availability heuristic, individuals can actively work to counteract the distortions caused by these biases.

This process fosters greater objectivity and critical thinking, enabling individuals to make more reasoned and unbiased interpretations of information and outcomes.

Seek Feedback From Others

Seeking feedback from others is a valuable strategy for overcoming self-serving bias, as it may help challenge cognitive biases and offer diverse perspectives, particularly in the context of workplace dynamics and cross-cultural differences.

By seeking feedback, individuals can gain insights into their own behaviors and thought patterns, which can be clouded by self-serving bias. This process allows individuals to identify and rectify any distortions in their self-perceptions and decision-making processes.

Feedback from others can provide alternate viewpoints and interpretations that may not have been considered, thus mitigating the influence of cognitive biases such as confirmation bias or the halo effect.

In a workplace setting, seeking feedback fosters a culture of open communication and continuous improvement, as it encourages individuals to engage in constructive dialogue and take ownership of their professional growth.

In the context of cross-cultural differences, feedback serves as a means for individuals to gain awareness of their own cultural lenses and to appreciate diverse perspectives, thereby promoting empathy and collaboration across cultural boundaries.

Consider Multiple Perspectives

Considering multiple perspectives is essential for overcoming self-serving bias, as it allows individuals to challenge cognitive biases, make informed decisions, and manage emotional responses to outcomes effectively.

When individuals are trapped in the confines of self-serving bias, they tend to prioritize their own interests and viewpoints over others’, which can impede their ability to objectively evaluate situations.

By consciously incorporating diverse perspectives, they can gain a more comprehensive understanding of a scenario, reducing the influence of personal biases. This enhanced cognitive flexibility ultimately leads to improved decision-making, as it enables individuals to filter out subjective inclinations and approach problems with greater clarity and discernment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the notion of self-serving bias in psychology?

The notion of self-serving bias in psychology refers to the tendency for individuals to attribute positive outcomes to their own abilities and efforts, while blaming negative outcomes on external factors.

How does self-serving bias impact our perception of ourselves?

Self-serving bias can lead individuals to have an inflated sense of self and overestimate their own abilities and successes. It can also prevent people from taking responsibility for their failures and hinder personal growth.

What are some common examples of self-serving bias?

Some common examples of self-serving bias include taking credit for success but blaming failures on others, exaggerating one’s own talents and achievements, and rationalizing mistakes or bad behavior.

Is self-serving bias always negative?

While self-serving bias can have negative consequences, it can also serve as a protective mechanism for individuals to maintain a positive self-image and cope with failures. It can also motivate individuals to work harder and achieve success.

How does self-serving bias affect relationships?

In relationships, self-serving bias can cause individuals to view their partners in a more positive light and overlook their flaws. It can also lead to conflicts and misunderstandings, as individuals may have a biased perception of their own actions and intentions.

Can self-serving bias be overcome?

While self-serving bias is a natural human tendency, it can be overcome through self-awareness, reflection, and feedback from others. Developing empathy and taking responsibility for one’s actions can also help reduce the influence of self-serving bias.

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