What Is a Self-Serving Bias?

Self-serving bias is the tendency to strengthen a person's ego by attributing positive events to his own abilities and attributing negative events to forces outside his control. People who have a self-serving bias protect themselves from threat and injury. This perceptual illusion makes it difficult for them to take responsibility for their actions and improve upon their shortcomings.

A number of factors contribute to self-serving bias. It is usually born out of an internal need for self-enhancement, the desire to uphold one's own worth, and self-presentation, the way in which one is seen by others. Individuals with higher self-esteem tend to exhibit greater self-serving bias than those who have low self-esteem. The self-serving bias is also less likely in older adults.

Self-serving bias appears in many situations. In the workplace, prospective employees tend to attribute finding a job to their own ability, while they attribute failure to finding a job to lack of employment. In academics, many students take credit for their success, but blame their failure on unfair grading standards or a prejudiced instructor. Normally, self-serving bias is a pervasive character trait that manifests itself in all aspects of one's life. Self-compassion, mindful awareness and rumination reduction are practices that help reduce self-serving bias.