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Actor-Observer Bias: Definition, Examples and Effects

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

The actor-observer bias is a cognitive bias that affects how we perceive and interpret the behavior of ourselves and others. It is a tendency to look for external reasons for our own behavior (e.g., "I failed the test because the material wasn't taught properly") and look for internal reasons for other people's behavior (e.g., "she failed the test because she didn't work hard enough").


1. Two drivers get into an accident and each excuses their own behavior but blames the other driver for not paying attention.

2. A person gets angry and blames their partner for not understanding them.

Effects: The actor-observer bias can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication, as well as a lack of empathy and understanding. It can also lead to a lack of self-awareness, as we may not be able to recognize our own mistakes and take responsibility for them. Additionally, it can lead to a lack of trust and respect in relationships, as we may not be able to see the other person’s perspective.

Do you want to expand your knowledge on this topic? Read our full in-depth article on cognitive biases.

Do you have extra 15 minutes today? Take our fun and interactive quiz to learn which of 16 reasoning styles you use, your overall level of rationality, and what you can do now to improve your rationality skills.


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