What is meant by bias? With the help of two examples each, explain self-serving bias and counterfactual thinking.
Biases in attribution are errors committed while ascribing the reasons behind other’s and our own behaviour. Attribution biases are mostly cognitive and perceptual in nature.
1. Self-serving bias: This bias involves ascribing all successes (positive events) to internal (own character) or dispositional causes and all failures (negative events) to external causes. It mainly occurs because we expect to succeed in life. Then we tend to ascribe our successes to internal causes.
a person getting a promotion ascribes it to his hard work, sincere efforts to each deadline, dedication and commitment towards work (Internal causes). The same person when refused promotion may ascribe it to unfair boss, flaws in the management, luck (External causes).
After a football team has soundly beaten an opponent, usually we hear from the opponent that it was bad luck, the field conditions were poor (External causes). On the other hand, the team who has won does not believe it was bad luck at all. They think they are better. The tendency to take credit for success and deny responsibility for failure is known as the self- serving attributional bias.
2. Counterfactual thinking: Counter-factual thinking is so named as it includes thoughts that are ‘counter to the facts’ i.e., different from reality. It is the tendency to judge any situation in life by thinking about a perfect alternative to it. Counterfactual thinking is those thoughts that make the person think over the differences in his/ her situation if things had occurred differently in her past. It is described as ‘what might have been if… ’ thought process.
For example :
Suppose a person takes an important exam and gets a score of C, much lower than what the person expected. Thoughts that usually come to most people in such a situation is ‘what might have been’ receiving a higher grade and reflect on how they could have obtained that better outcome. “If only I would have studied more or come to classes more often”, maybe the thoughts. The person may actually formulate plans to do better the next year.
Athletes who win bronze medals at the Olympics report that they often imagine not winning any medal at all. Both negative and positive feelings are
generated through counterfactual thinking. When a person imagines better outcomes than actually what has occurred, he/she experiences negative feelings of regret, envy (upward counterfactual thinking). On the contrary, when the person imagines worse outcomes than actually what has occurred they may experience positive feelings of satisfaction (downward counterfactual thinking).
Counterfactual thinking can also help individuals understand why negative or disappointing outcomes occurred. This, in turn, can help people plan changes in behaviour or adopt new strategies that can improve our future performances. By engaging in counter-factual thinking an individual can learn from past experiences and can make profit from their mistakes.