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Self-Serving Bias Rides Again

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Originally posted on May 19, 2014.

Self-serving bias—the tendency to perceive oneself favorably—has become one of personality-social psychology’s most robust phenomena.  It’s our modern rendition of ancient wisdom about pride, which theologians have considered the basic sin (much as Freud considered repression the basic defense mechanism).

Self-serving bias appears in people’s judging themselves as better-than-average—on just about any subjective, socially desirable dimension.  Compared with people in general, most people see themselves as more ethical, friendly, intelligent, professionally competent, attractive, unprejudiced, and healthier—and even as more unbiased in their self-assessments!

As part of my reporting on the world of psychology, I enjoy, as an affiliate British Psychological Society affiliate member, two of its journals, and also its Research Digest.  (The digest, authored by Christian Jarrett, is available as a free bimonthly e-mail here.) The Digest put a smirk on my face with its synopsis of a new British Journal of Social Psychology report by Constantine Sedikides, Rosie Meek, Mark Alicke, and Sarah Taylor.  The Sedikides team found that English prisoners incarcerated for violence and robbery saw themselves, compared with “an average member of the community,” as (I am not making this up) more moral, kind, and compassionate.

Shelly Taylor’s humbling surmise, in her 1989 book, Positive Illusions, still rings true: “The [self-]portraits that we actually believe, when we are given freedom to voice them, are dramatically more positive than reality can sustain.”

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About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org).