February 6, 2020

Actor–Observer Bias


If you are late for work, you justify yourself that there were enough reasons for it such as a traffic jam or a long bus interval. But if your coworker is late, you regard him as a lazy person. If you messed up the test, you think it’s because the test was too difficult, but if others messed theirs up, you conclude that it’s because they did not study hard. Everyone gets this psychological error at one time or another.

The actor-observer bias is a term in social psychology that refers to a tendency to attribute one’s own actions to external causes, while attributing other people’s behaviors to internal causes. Essentially, people tend to make different attributions, depending upon whether they are the actor or the observer in a situation.

In order not to fall into this error, we need to make an effort to understand others. As we cannot understand others’ situations and thoughts 100%, even if we think we’re considerate of others in our own ways, it may still be a misunderstanding. Therefore, we should be more generous toward others. When we come out of the position of an observer and put ourselves in the situation of others, and when we keep the possibility of unexpected causes in mind, we can reduce the actor-observer bias.