Just a reminder that the purpose of this discussion aims at stimulating thought and self awareness as tools to help those in recovery from trauma learn how to make safer choices. To make the discussion more jocular, we've defined Cognitive Biases as “CranioRectal Inversions” (CRI).
Like the Blind Spot and Confirmation biases, the Self Serving Bias also serves to preserve the ego by painting the self in a positive light. One of many other attribution errors, anything that happens that benefits a person is credited to their achievement and merit. This assumption is sometimes true, but not always. The tendency helps us cope with and manage our fear of failure so that we can find optimism in the face of self-doubt.
In the event of failure or negative outcomes, the Self Serving Bias can also work to preserve ego by laying blame on some source other than the self. If we get a favorable score on a test, we take the credit for knowing the material and performing well. However, if we earn a low score on the test, we can easily blame the test or the teacher or some other factor to assuage our own feelings. We human beings tend to find it easy to assign cause to anything but our own behavior or limitations.
As in the Blind Spot Bias, we also tend to judge situations differently, depending on whether the issue at hand pertains to us. We tend to prefer our own opinions and our own standing over that of others. If we did poorly on a test and others scored better, we are less inclined to admit that we were at fault. The other party who scored higher just happened to be lucky that day. If they did poorly, we will be far more inclined to believe that they didn't study enough. (This is actually a classic example of the Fundamental Attribution Error as well as the Self-Serving Bias, the primary focus of a post yet to come.)
Are you at risk?
According to research, certain populations of people are more prone to the self-serving bias than others. Older people tend to interpret events as due to internal factors, so they are more likely to blame themselves for failure. Statistically men prove more likely to lay blame on external factors than women. People from certain cultures are also more prone to fall into the trappings of the self-serving bias.
High demand environments punish individuality and personal success, and people become conditioned to attribute success to the group – a practice enforced by the group. In the event of failure, group members learn to absorb blame, attributing the cause to their own deficiencies. They become victims of circumstance because of the illusion of helplessness. Those who are depressed or suffer from poor self esteem also tend to absorb blame because of the illusion of powerlessness.
The Self Serving Bias can interfere with our ability to recognize our mistakes and can drastically limit our personal growth. Accepting failures or mistakes as very human experiences that all people face can help us transform them into an opportunities for learning – our teachers that help us find success.
For Further Reading until the next post:
- One of the $3 Kindle books about Cognitive Bias at Amazon.com
- Shermer's The Believing Brain
- Carroll's Skeptic's Dictionary
- Gilovich, Griffin & Kahneman's Heuristics and Biases
- Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- Judith Herman's Trauma