Self-serving or attribution bias

self serving bias

Why we blame someone? According to social psychologists, it occurs as a knee-jerk response to a situation that we perceive our inability to handle the situation. Instead of acknowledging our limitations or lack of skills dealing with it, we tend to shift the blame to someone.

It is a cognitive bias; social psychologists name it either “internal (or dispositional) attribution” bias. We attribute the problem to someone’s innate characteristic rather than the external situation that might have influenced them to act in that way.

However, If we ourselves had to accept its responsibility, we gain tend to shift the blame not to ourselves but some external environmental characteristic such as weather.

Either way, we want to preserve our self-esteem; so, it is also called “self-serving bias”.

Let us think of a “group think” situation.

When we, as a group, community, or country, observe “undesirable” (according to our interpretation) behavior within our group, we tend to think it is because of another country’s influence, sometimes rather western influence, or a plot by another country. In this way, we save our collective self-esteem.

However, when we observe either the same or similar behavior among outsiders (as perceived by the interpreters), we might say that is how they are – something innate to themselves.

Either way, we save our own self-esteem. We are self-serving ourselves as a group.


Author: Prasantha De Silva

A specialist in Community Medicine board-certified in Sri Lanka and a research analyst in Canada

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