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What Is the Actor ObserverBias?

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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.

The actor-observer bias tends to be more pronounced in situations where the outcomes are negative. For example, in a situation where a person experiences something negative, the individual will often blame the situation or circumstances. When something negative happens to another person, people will often blame the individual for their personal choices, behaviors and actions.

Researchers have found that people tend to succumb to this bias less frequently with people they know well, such as close friends and family members. Because we have more information about the needs, motivations and thoughts of these individuals, we are more likely to account for the external forces that impact behavior.

Actor-observer bias is a type of attributional bias.

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Aron, A., Aron, E.N., & Smollan, D. (1992). Inclusion of the other in the self scale and the structure of interpersonal closeness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 596-612.

Jones, E. E., & Nisbett, R. E. 1971. The Actor and the Observer: Divergent Perceptions of the Causes of Behavior. New York: General Learning Press.

Also Known As: Actor-Observer Discrepancy, Actor-Observer Effect
See More About
  • social psychology
  • actor-observer bias
  • attributional bias
  • cognitive bias
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