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Church leaders need to share blame and credit with others

Acknowledging one’s self-serving bias can make us a synodal Church that seeks and travels together
Published: June 08, 2023 03:57 AM GMT

Updated: July 03, 2023 06:49 AM GMT

A Catholic priest celebrates Mass during an Ash Wednesday service at the Saint Anthony Church in Hyderabad in southern India on March 2, 2022

A Catholic priest celebrates Mass during an Ash Wednesday service at the Saint Anthony Church in Hyderabad in southern India on March 2, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

Credit for myself and blame for others! It is a frequent practice for people to take ownership of successful outcomes or occurrences while placing blame for unsuccessful ones on external forces.

This bias in ethics is called self-serving bias. Age, culture, clinical diagnosis, and other factors can all have an impact on this.

Almost all of us live this bias, mostly unconsciously.

Locus of control and self-serving bias

We might be able to understand this prejudice using the locus of control (LOC) idea.  A person's belief system regarding the causes of events and the attendant attributions is referred to as LOC. LOCs fall into one of two categories: internal or external.

If someone has an internal LOC, they will attribute their achievement to their own diligence, perseverance and hard work. If they have an external LOC, any success will be attributed to chance or something external to them.

Self-serving bias may be more prevalent among those with internal LOC, especially when it comes to accomplishments.

Self-serving bias happens in a variety of contexts, involving people of diverse ages, genders and cultures. For instance:

  • When a student performs well in a test, she may tell herself that she has done her homework or is an expert on the subject. She claims that the examination was unfair after receiving a poor grade on another exam.
  • When an athlete wins, they credit their preparation and hard work for the victory. They attribute their loss the following week to poor refereeing decisions.
  • A job applicant thinks his accomplishments, credentials and strong interview have led to his hiring. He claims that the interviewer didn't like him for a previous position for which he didn't obtain an offer.

Self-serving bias might be reversed in a person who is depressed or has low self-esteem. Positive events are attributed to luck or the actions of others, while unpleasant events are attributed to something they did.

The driving forces

Self-enhancement and self-presentation are regarded to be the two driving forces behind self-serving bias.

Self-enhancement: The idea of self-enhancement refers to the requirement to maintain one's sense of self-worth. When someone has a self-serving bias, they can retain a good sense of self-worth by attributing positive experiences to themselves and unfavorable ones to other factors.

Let's say you're playing baseball and you get a strikeout. You can continue to hold onto the notion that you're a good hitter if you think the umpire erroneously called strikes when you actually received terrible pitches.

Self-presentation: How one displays themselves to others. The desire to seem a certain way to other people is what it is. Self-serving bias assists us in maintaining our public persona in this way.

For instance, if you want to give the impression that you have solid studying habits, you can blame bad test questions rather than a lack of preparation for your poor performance.

You can complain, "I studied all night, but the questions weren't based on the information we were given." Be aware that portraying oneself well is not the same as lying. Even though you may have spent the entire night researching, you can't imagine that you did so ineffectively.

Factors influencing self-serving bias

There are additional elements that could influence self-serving bias:

Females vs. males: While several researches have looked at gender differences in self-serving bias, a 2004 meta-analysis indicated that it is difficult to isolate these differences.

This isn't merely due to the inconsistent findings regarding attributional disparities between the sexes. It's important because these studies have shown that self-serving bias varies with an individual's age and the type of success or failure being attributed.

Young vs. old: Over time, self-serving bias can evolve. Perhaps elderly folks experience it less frequently. This can be the result of past events or emotional reasons.

Additionally, positivity bias, which refers to the propensity to overvalue positive attributes, may be less pronounced in older persons.

Cultural bias: Due to the tendency of Western culture to value tough individualism, individual self-serving bias is helpful. Successes and failures are perceived as being impacted by the community's collective nature in more collectivist civilizations. People in these societies are aware of the interdependence between individual behavior and the broader system.

Testing for self-serving bias can be done through laboratory evaluations, brain imaging or self-retrospective assessment.

Researchers' lab experiments can shed light on situational examples of self-serving bias as well as strategies to lessen it.

Researchers can visualize the brain using neural imaging to determine which areas of the brain are responsible for judgments and attributions. Self-report enables the provision of results based on previous behavior.

Self-serving bias isn't always beneficial, but it can help someone feel better about themselves. Narcissism, which has been connected to unfavorable outcomes in the workplace and interpersonal relationships, can be attributed to the constant blaming of negative outcomes on external forces and solely accepting credit for positive events.

If teachers and students frequently blame one another for bad things that happen in the classroom, this can cause tension and strained relationships.


Bias that benefits oneself is common and has a function. However, learning processes and interpersonal connections may suffer if a person repeatedly denies their role in unfortunate situations. Thus, it's undoubtedly something to be mindful about.

Self-serving bias can change over time in an individual and among demographic groupings. Church leaders, who are called to be much more authentic and sincere, are urged to understand this bias, acknowledge it when it occurs and humbly share both credit and blame equally with the others. That will make us a synodal Church that seeks and travels together toward a common goal and common good.

*Jesuit Father Kuruvilla Pandikattu is a theologian and Chair Professor of the JRD Tata Foundation for Business Ethics at XLRI-Xavier School of Management in Jamshedpur, India. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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