Self Serving Bias

What is Self Serving Bias?

Ever taken a test and when you aced it, you thought, “I’m really smart!” but when you didn’t do well, you figured, “The test was unfair?” That’s self serving bias. It’s like a sneaky voice in our heads that’s really good at making excuses for us when things go wrong, but it’s also quick to give us a high-five when we nail something. In other words, self serving bias is when we have a habit of giving ourselves a big thumbs up for our success and pointing fingers at everything else when we fail.

Another way to look at it: self serving bias is like being the captain of a basketball team that only takes a bow when the game is won but points at the slippery floor or the sun in their eyes when the game is lost. It helps us to keep feeling good about ourselves by saying it’s always our skill that brings us trophies and only bad luck that makes us stumble.

How Does Self Serving Bias Affect Us?

This habit of thinking shows up in lots of places:

  • School: If you score an A, you might think it’s because you’re a brainiac who did all the homework. Score a C? Maybe you think the teacher didn’t explain things well enough or the classroom was too cold. It’s self serving bias because you’re taking the credit and then avoiding the blame.
  • Sports: When your team wins, you shout, “Yes, we’re the champs because of our skills!” But if there’s a loss, “Oh, the other team just got lucky.” Again, you’re seeing your wins as all because of you but thinking the losses are someone else’s fault.
  • Work: You complete a project and it’s a hit, so you think, “I put in the extra effort!” If it flops, it’s “The guidelines were confusing, and my team wasn’t pulling their weight.” You’re not as willing to say it was partly on you.
  • Relationships: A good relationship might have you feeling, “I’m a real catch!” but if it ends, thinking, “Well, they didn’t appreciate what I bring to the table.” You’re not considering that it takes two to make it work and sometimes fail.

Each of these situations shines a light on self serving bias and how it twists our view of wins and losses. It keeps our self-esteem buoyed up by holding on to the credits and dodging the criticisms.

Dealing with Self Serving Bias

Working on self serving bias requires some honest self-reflection. Here’s how you can manage it:

  • Practice humility: It’s important to remember the role others play in our success. High-fiving your teammates shows you know it’s not just about you.
  • Take responsibility: Acknowledging our own goofs can be tough, but it’s how we learn and get better. It’s all part of growing up and getting wiser.
  • Ask others: Getting a different point of view from someone you trust can help you see the full picture. They might notice things you missed.
  • Think objectively: Looking at situations as if you’re just watching can take some of the emotion out and let the facts stand out more.
  • Keep a journal: Writing about daily events and your reactions can reveal patterns in your thinking, especially how often self serving bias pops up in your life.

Trying out these approaches might help us keep that self serving bias in check, leading to a clearer and more honest outlook on life’s ups and downs.

Related Biases and Concepts

Self serving bias doesn’t show up alone. It often brings some buddies along, influencing how we think and view the world:

  • Fundamental attribution error: This is when we’re quick to say someone’s mistake is because of who they are instead of the situation, but when we mess up, we blame everything except ourselves. It’s like self serving bias’s twin.
  • Confirmation bias: This one’s like digging for treasure but only keeping the gold that has your name on it. We notice and remember stuff that agrees with us and often ignore the rest.
  • Actor-observer bias: Here we have a blend where we excuse our own actions due to circumstances but think others do what they do just because that’s how they are—no excuses.

Spotting these allies of self serving bias can be the key to unlocking a more truthful understanding of ourselves and others.

Debates and Controversies

Is self serving bias the bad guy all the time? It’s complicated. Some experts argue it’s natural and can cushion our self-esteem. But letting it run wild can lead to looking arrogant or missing chances to get better at life’s many challenges. The trick is to find a balance.

Researchers also argue about how this bias plays out across different cultures. There are societies where people lean more towards the group’s success rather than just their own, which can change how self serving bias looks in those places.

Ultimately, self serving bias is part of who we are. We all want to feel proud of what we do but keeping our feet on the ground is just as important. By staying alert to where and how this bias shows up, we can strive for a more balanced and fair view of our actions and their consequences.

Why is it Important?

Understanding self serving bias matters because it affects how we interact with the world. When we always think our successes are all thanks to us, we might not see how our friends, family, or even luck played a part. And if we never own up to hiccups along the way, we miss out on chances to learn. Real growth happens when we can look at both our shining moments and our oops moments with open eyes. This helps us be better friends, students, teammates, and people in general.

For example, if a student learns to see both their efforts and the helpful feedback from a teacher as keys to their good grades, they can build stronger relationships and respect the role of others in their achievements. Or if an athlete acknowledges that sometimes the opposing team just played better, they can focus on improving their own game rather than making excuses.

Everyone has ups and downs. Being fair to ourselves and others in judging these moments can make a big difference in how happy and successful we feel in life.


In summary, self serving bias is our mind’s sneaky way of keeping us feeling good by saying, “Yeah, I did that!” when we win but blaming someone or something else when things don’t go our way. It shows up everywhere—from school to sports to work and personal relationships. Checking this bias at the door and looking at things with clear eyes can lead to a more honest and balanced life.

Other mental habits like fundamental attribution error, confirmation bias, and actor-observer bias often join the self serving bias party. Knowing about these can help us see when our thinking is getting wonky.

While some say a bit of self serving bias can be okay to protect our self-esteem, too much can backfire, making us less likable and stopping us from learning. It’s a dance between being kind to ourselves and not drifting away from the truth. Being aware of self serving bias and its buddies can make all the difference in finding that balance, leading to better growth, relationships, and all-around life.