Egocentric Bias Definition
Most people know more about themselves than they know about others. This is true in part because people tend to pay more attention to themselves than to others and in part because people have privileged access to information about themselves (e.g., private thoughts, emotions) that is unavailable to others. Because it is so plentiful, information about the self can exert a disproportionate influence on various kinds of judgments. When it does, that tendency is known as an egocentric (i.e., self-centered) bias.
As an example of an egocentric bias, consider how people divide up the credit for collaborative endeavors. When individuals work together on a task, such as a sales team that works to market a new product or students who collaborate on a class assignment, each person, on average, tends to assign him- or herself a bit more of the credit for the group’s output than the others feel he or she deserves. Thus, if you add up the proportion of the work that each collaborator claims to have contributed, you usually end up with a sum that exceeds 100%. (Logically, of course, this cannot be; if three collaborators each believe they have done 50% of the work—a total of 150%—then one or more of them are mistaken.) Why does this happen? Some of it is an unscrupulous “grab for credit” in which people falsely claim to have done an inflated share of the work to claim an inflated share of the rewards (a sales bonus or a course grade). But it also stems in part from an egocentric bias in recalling one’s own contributions. Simply put, people have an easier time remembering their own inputs than those of others. The ideas we contributed at a sales meeting or the hours we spent in the library are easier to remember than those that others contributed.
When it comes time to determine each collaborator’s share of the credit, then, the relative ease with which our own contributions come to mind makes them seem as though they were more numerous than they actually were, causing us to overestimate them. Indeed, because one’s own inputs are easier to recall even when they are unflattering, this bias occurs even when people wish to minimize their role in a collaborative endeavor. Married individuals in one study who were asked to divide responsibility between themselves and their spouse for several household activities claimed more than their fair share of the credit not only for positive activities (“cleaning the dishes”) but also for negative ones (“causing arguments”).
This is just one example of an egocentric bias. Our self-centered perspectives give rise to many others, including a tendency to overestimate how successfully we communicate with others (assuming others understand what we understand), a tendency to overestimate how much others share our attitudes and preferences (assuming others feel as we do), and a tendency to believe others are paying attention to us more than they are (assuming we stand out to others as much as we do to ourselves).
- Gilovich, T., Medvec, V. H., & Savitsky, K. (2000). The spotlight effect in social judgment: An egocentric bias in estimates of the salience of one’s own actions and appearance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 211-222.
- Ross, M., & Sicoly, F. (1979). Egocentric biases in availability and attribution. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 322-336.