Self Serving Bias

Cite this article as: Praveen Shrestha, "Self Serving Bias," in Psychestudy, April 1, 2018,

Self-Serving Bias is best explained as a tendency to give ourselves credit when good things happen and to blame external or situational forces when negative things happen.

Self-Serving can seem like an evasion of responsibility for our actions. Researchers have called self-serving bias a defense mechanism that we formulate to protect our self-esteem.

Examples of Self Serving Bias

There are plenty of real-world examples for self-serving bias.

  • In a car accident, both parties involved blame the other driver.
  • If a student aces his finals, he attributes it to his hard work and dedication.
  • If a student fails the test, he attributes it to the questions being too difficult, the room being too hot, noisy classroom, and other external factors – whatever they may be.

All these examples indicate real-world scenarios we have all experienced first hand. One thing common in these examples is the tendency to always blame external factors in case of negative results and to attribute one’s individual traits in case of positive results.

Actor-Observer Bias is something similar to Self Serving Bias, however, they differ in principle. Check out our article Actor-Observer Bias to find out more.

We have a well-informative article on Attribution Theory, where it all starts. Make sure you check it out.

Why does Self-Serving Bias Occur?

Self-Serving bias can often act as a defense mechanism to protect your self-esteem. When you blame external factors for your failures, you are protecting your self-esteem by evading from your personal responsibility.

Likewise, when you attribute your internal factors such as personality or skill for positive outcomes, you get a boost in confidence.

A lot of research has shown that self-serving bias can be affected by age, gender, and psychological conditions. So, the degree of this cognitive bias cannot be generalized.

Older adults tend to credit themselves quite a lot. Your grandparents making internal attributions for their success can be considered to be a real-world example in this case.

Gender is another factor affecting self-serving bias. Researchers have revealed that men tend to blame external forces for their failures.

In certain situations, self-serving bias can also be reversed. A depressed person or someone with low self-esteem might blame themselves (make internal attributions) for their failures, and attribute positive outcomes to external forces or even luck.

How does Culture affect Self-Serving Bias?

Various studies have shown that self-serving bias is considerably higher in Western cultures that include countries like the US and Canada, in comparison to Eastern cultures like Japan and China.

Why is it so?

Western cultures are comparatively individualist cultures. Western cultures highly emphasize personal achievement and self-esteem. This leads to the defense mechanism of protecting the self from feelings of failure.

On the other hand, Eastern cultures are rather collectivist cultures. These cultures are less focused on individual accomplishments.

So, they are more likely to attribute their personal success to luck, god, and failures to internal traits like lack of skill.

What are the exceptions for Self-Serving Bias?

Self-serving bias is less likely when the person is involved in close relationships. Friends and partners in life often help us to be honest with ourselves and encourage us to take responsibility for our actions.

Self-Serving bias Positive Effects

While deflecting one’s personal responsibility seems highly negative, self-serving bias also has its positive aspects.

One of the positive sides of self-serving bias is that it will always push the person towards progress.

For instance, if someone fails his test and attributes the failure to external factors, he isn’t disheartened by his lack of skill. So, he isn’t discouraged to study for the next test as his self-esteem remains intact.

Likewise, an athlete might train harder to overcome the failures that he/she believes was entirely due to someone else’s fault.

A word from Psychestudy

A healthy defense mechanism to protect self-esteem can go a long way in life. However, finding the perfect balance is key. One shouldn’t always blame themselves for their personal failures. On the other hand, people shouldn’t always evade their personal responsibilities either.

Being around close friends who encourage you to be honest and modest can help people from overcoming their tendency to be self-serving.

Cite this article as: Praveen Shrestha, "Self Serving Bias," in Psychestudy, April 1, 2018,