The Self-Serving bias is extremely common and is described as a human perceptual process that is distorted.3 Researchers have identified several different reasons for why the self-serving bias occurs so frequently among individuals.
The self-serving bias is common in relation to our need to either maintain or enhance our own self-esteem.3 By attributing our successes to our own characteristics, and our failures to external circumstances, we spare ourselves of any real opportunity for criticism. The self-serving bias skews our perception of ourselves and of our reality, in order to improve and preserve our own self-esteem in the process.
Self-presentation describes how an individual conveys information about themselves to others. Self-presentation is either used to present information to match an individual’s self-image to others or present information to match audience expectations and preferences.4
Self-presentation aids individuals in maintaining their self-esteem, as they are affected by other’s perceptions of themselves. To continue to enhance their self-esteem, an individual actively portrays favorable impressions of themselves to others.5
Another reason that this cognitive bias is particularly common, is due to the fact that humans are inherently optimistic. Negative outcomes tend to surprise people, and thus we are more likely to attribute negative results or outcomes to situational and external factors, rather than to personal reasons. Along with our likelihood to be optimistic, humans consistently make what is referred to by psychologists as a fundamental attribution error due to our self-serving bias. A fundamental attribution error, also commonly referred to as correspondence bias or the attribution effect, describes how when others around us make mistakes, we blame the individual who makes the error, but when we make mistakes ourselves, we blame circumstances for our failures.6
Age & Culture
Self-serving bias is a bias that many individuals will experience throughout their lives. That being said, self-serving bias does vary when looking at different age groups and cultures. Researchers have confirmed that self-serving bias is most prevalent among young children and older adults. From a cultural perspective, there is no official consensus regarding self-serving biases and cross-culture influences. However, researchers globally are now further investigating the cultural implications of self-serving bias, specifically in regards to differences in self-serving bias demonstrated in Western and non-Western cultures.7