Skip to main content

What Is Self-Serving Bias?

·771 words·4 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

I’ve covered a number of topics since I started this series, Psyched for the Weekend, at the end of 2018.  I first started writing these articles after I finished the PQ series,  a different weekend feature of just under 200 posts in which I publicly answered all of the chapter end reflection questions in a book on polyamory authored by someone else.

The PQ Series was not a popular feature, to put it mildly. While most readers admired my commitment to actually finishing what I started, I received regular feedback that while some installments were pretty good, they were considered as a whole to be my worst blog posts.

So when I finally finished that project 196 posts later, I decided to try some different on the weekends (which is when I eventually moved the PQ series, since the weekends are the lowest traffic time for the blog).

“Write about psychology,” one friend suggested. Because I read up on it and talk about it all the time as a matter of course. And research really does inform the way I view the world.

So I decided I’d do that, that I’d write some articles about psych research on the weekends. And I was out on a walk one day when I decided to call it Psyched for the Weekend. And off I went.

After the first few articles came out, I was shocked to find that Psyched for the Weekend was much more popular than the PQ Series had been. In spite of the series not being explicitly about polyamory or even not always about relationships, y’all liked it. Learned a lot. Found it interesting. So I’ve kept it up.

Anyway, I’ve been very ad hoc about its structure. Been just kind of winging it. Taking an article/concept at a time. No grand plan here. I write about things that occur to me, usually through one of these methods:

  • I stumble onto a research study that’s new to me.
  • I’m talking to someone about a research concept or study I’ve been familiar with for a while and realize I should cover it for Psyched.
  • Someone else suggests that I cover something for Psyched. I’ve been sent articles/suggestions from friends and readers. (Thank you so much by the way.)
  • I realize that somehow shockingly I haven’t written about a concept/study yet because I’m writing something else and go to link the Psyched article to give more depth into a concept I’m mentioning in passing and realize…. there isn’t one.

Today’s concept falls into the fourth category, the “how have I not written about this yet?” category. Because the truth of the matter is that self-serving bias is pretty prevalent in human psychology and wreaks havoc on interpersonal interaction.

I’ve written many articles that deal indirectly with it. I’ve also covered a related concept called the fundamental attribution error (our tendency to explain the actions of other people by their internal characteristics and assume things about their personality based on it, rather than by anything externally or situationally that could be happening to them). But so close but not cigar.

What Is Self-Serving Bias?

So what is self-serving bias anyway? Well, the quickest, dirtiest definition I can give you is this: Self-serving bias is the tendency for us to blame others when bad things happen and take credit when good things happen. It’s incredibly common. And causes all sorts of problems.

It’s that self-serving double standard that you’ve likely seen in people around you.

Unfortunately, if you’re in the throes of self-serving bias, you’re very unlikely to see that you are. Since you are basically drowning in that self-serving double standard. Lovely.

So if it causes so many interpersonal problems, then why do we do it? Well, for starters, it preserves our self-esteem. Essentially, it makes it so we can feel good about ourselves even if we’re just as janky as the people who frustrate us.

Like any other bias, not everyone suffers from it to the same extent. There’s been some interesting research into who tends to have more self-serving bias — I plan on covering some of those studies in the future for this series.

But yeah. Self-serving bias definitely exists. Weirdly, researchers have seen it in the brain. I’m serious. Interestingly enough, a study from 2003 actually found evidence of self-serving bias on fMRI in the dorsal striatum.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.


Cheaters Judge Other Cheaters More Harshly Than They Judge Themselves
·350 words·2 mins
Psyched for the Weekend
Social Psychology’s Biggest Double Standard: The Fundamental Attribution Error
·697 words·4 mins
Psyched for the Weekend
The Adorable Reason Long-Term Couples Resemble One Another
·691 words·4 mins
Psyched for the Weekend Research