Self-serving bias is the common habit of a person taking credit for positive events or outcomes, but blaming outside factors for negative events. In other climes, this bias is said to be affected by age, culture, clinical diagnosis, and more. It tends to occur widely across populations. In Nigeria, however, it is associated with the desire to find comfort in one’s failure and take credit when all goes well.
The self-serving bias occurs for a variety of events and in a variety of settings.
It is evident in workers who attribute receiving promotions to hard work and exceptional skill, yet attribute denial of promotions to unfair bosses.
The bias is also evident among students who are more likely to assume personal responsibility when they perform well in exams than when they perform poorly. It is common to hear students say “I had an A”, when they are graded “A”; however, when they fail, it changes to “they gave me F”.
This bias is also evident in drivers who attribute accidents to external factors; such as bad roads, the weather, the condition of their car, the recklessness of other drivers; yet attribute the narrow avoidance of an accident to their alertness and finely-honed driving skills.
What I have observed is that people view their positive outcomes as primarily internally caused, yet view their negative outcomes as primarily externally caused. Internal causes generally refer to skills, personal traits, or effort, whereas external causes generally refer to the actions or inactions of others, luck and circumstances.
This is the reason why people think that “they would have landed that job or passed that exams if only God wanted them to pass“. Individuals with this bias will not accept that their preparation for exams was inadequate. These set of individuals likely perceive the causes of their undesired outcomes as outside their personal control.
“Self-serving biases and self-centered agendas are cotton jammed in the ears of our conscience. Even if truth shouts, we can’t hear it.”― Craig D. Lounsbrough
Causes of Self-serving bias
“The ego is what drives a self-serving individual who hates to admit they are wrong.”― Suzy Kassem
People claim personal responsibility for successes but not failures in an attempt to influence how others perceive them.
The primary cause of self-serving bias is the desire to protect or enhance the positivity of the self. People make self-serving attributions because of the benefits to self-worth. Perceiving oneself as responsible for desired outcomes enhances personal self-worth, whereas perceiving oneself as responsible for undesired outcomes diminishes self-worth.
The self-serving bias allows individuals to maintain positive feelings about themselves in the face of failure or to feel particularly good about themselves following success.
Why it is important to stop the self-serving bias
Being aware of the self-serving bias and its impact is crucial because it ensures we learn from our failures; it also helps us understand that our lives reflect the decisions we take and no supernatural power forces us to make decisions rather we are directed/led. And because God is not the author of confusion, when we are directed, the outcome is always great; just like having a mentor that is always with you (…….this is my belief).
If you do not attribute your failures to your mistakes, then you are less likely to learn from them; not to mention avoid making them in the future.
Before finding a solution, one must agree he/she has a problem. However, individuals with self-serving bias wouldn’t agree they failed due to lack of proper preparations and planning. We must understand that a key component of achieving success is first agreeing we failed when we do and learn from these failures. If you are incapable of attributing your failure to your own mistakes, then it is unlikely that you will ever improve.
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