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Discuss research into one error of attribution (self serving bias)

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Discuss research into one error of attribution (self serving bias) Jones and Nisbett argue that observers are more likely to make dispositional attributions when explaining the behaviour of others whilst the actors themselves are more likely to consider the full range of causes of their own behaviour and are thus more likely to make situational or external attributions. However, Miller and Ross (1975) indicate that the soc-called actor-observer bias is most applicable to negative events and may in fact be reversed completely when actors consider their own achievements or successes. They describe two biases which have collectively been termed the self serving bias. This encompasses the self enhancing bias, where the individual explains his or her achievements in terms of internal factors or disposition and the self protecting bias where s/he 'blames' negative outcomes or failures upon situational factors outside of his or her own control. This form of attributional bias is very well supported and there are many examples of self serving bias in the literature. For example Lau and Russell (1980) explored this concept by conducting a content analysis of attributions made in the sports pages of American newspapers. They compared the explanations given by sportswriters with interviews with the America Football coaches and players. They found that the coaches and players were more likely to credit their wins to internal factors such as hard work, the good shape of the team, natural talent etc and losses to external factors such as injuries, weather, foul play from the opposing team, etc. ...read more.


This is part of 'impression management' theory and the argument here is that we should attempt to present ourselves to others in the best possible light. We might assume that this serves an evolutionary function with regard to sexual selection, (mate choice) and also natural selection, as this way of thinking encourages perseverance as even when we are failing we are encouraged to continue. However, there is also an alternative explanation which has been presented by Miller and Ross, (1975) which is purely cognitive and suggests that we sometimes make erroneous dispositional attributions about o0ur success and this is because we generally intend to succeed at the thing s that we do, we therefore apply effort and when we succeed we assume that this is because we worked hard and intended to do so. When we fail this is not expected and therefore we are more likely to look for causes outside ourselves. However, this explanation is refuted by a the results of a study by Miller (1976) who gave Pps a test of social perceptiveness and then randomly told them that they had either passed or failed. Half were told it was a well standardised and valid assessment and half were told it was a poor assessment. This meant that for those who thought they had failed in the latter category they had no need to show self protecting bias as they already had a reason as to why they may have received a poor score, (the test was poor and actually they are very good at this social perception). ...read more.


Cognitive therapists teach people with depression to re-assess these distorted attributions and encourage the use of self serving bias as an alternative way of thinking. These theories do not explain however, why certain individuals are more or less predisposed to a certain type of attributional style, be it self-serving or otherwise. In this essay, it has been argued that self serving bias may be more common in Westerners and may serve to increase or maintain self esteem. It also been argued that self enhancing bias is better supported by the literature than self protecting bias, i.e. attributing failure to external circumstances. Research suggests that when people are aware that their achievements may be open to further scrutiny in the future, they may be less likely to use the self serving bias and may in fact use a related concept known as self-handicapping whereby possible future failure is covered by lowering expectations of success by focusing on situational factors. This way success will seem even greater as it was achieved apparently against the odds, and failure is less likely to be seen as due to an enduring problem with the individual. This leads to an interesting final thought relating to whether attributions made are private or public; private attributions may still be shaped by over-riding social norms however, those attributions that are communicated to others publically are most likely to be determined by the values of the society in which we live and therefore research in this area is troublesome as we cannot be sure whether the attributions that we are accessing are indeed a full record of the inner rationalisations that the individuals makes to him or herself at an intra-personal level. ...read more.

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