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Self-serving bias

Rolf Dobelli, the Swiss author, speaks of the tendency of chairmen of companies to attribute the good performance of their company to the astuteness of the board and dynamism of the management. And when the results are poor, then outside factors –economic uncertainty, exchange rate, supply side disruptions, et all–are typically cited. This tendency to lapse into a self-serving bias is something very many of us suffer from. Cricketers blame the pitch for the loss; students blame the question paper being tough for their failure; persons coming late for a meeting blame the traffic. In every case factors other than one’s own inefficiency, incompetence, and lack of preparedness are mentioned.

Consequently, when one is suffering from the ailment of self-serving bias one is never learning from mistakes because you never acknowledge your mistake. It limits your growth because you suffer from the delusion that nothing is wrong with you. A key to success, to improvement, is to learn to listen, to examine what went wrong and practice and work harder to address the challenges. To carry forward the earlier analogy, Chairmen of companies will need to look within the company, cricketers will need to practice in conditions which favour the moving or spinning ball, students should learn to be prepared for tough questions and one should always factor the possibility of traffic delays when going for important meetings. It has been argued that having an inflated view about oneself helps in developing self-esteem, in creating positive emotions and staying motivated. But this is again bias at work-for in the process you are creating an illusion about yourself which is far away from reality. And when reality does hit you as it will, you are bound to get hurt.

It is essential then as the Bard has said to be true to thine own self. And that is a key requirement.

When one is not true to oneself you live in denial. This affliction can strike not only individuals but also societies and countries. And consequently, self-serving bias limits the potential and growth of be it individuals and companies but also societies and countries. It is essential that one does not fall into this trap. This can be avoided when we learn to introspect and acknowledge lapses; at the end of the day self-serving bias is nothing but an untruthful perception about oneself.

(Published 09 November 2023, 19:38 IST)

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