Have you ever been left disappointed when you offer a brilliant idea at a meeting only for your point to go unnoticed?
Or a little annoyed that after playing an intensive, self-sacrificing role in a successful group project your contribution seems underappreciated?
While this feeling can sometimes be justified at others times it may be your mind playing tricks on you. This is the psychological phenomenon known as the egocentric bias. Studies have shown that there are disparities between the way we view our own performance and the way it is viewed by others . We can be so focused on our own contributions to a joint enterprise that our assessment of ‘who did how much’ tends to be biased in our own favour .
In the workplace people can also overestimate their own abilities in doing their job when comparing themselves to their colleagues. This can even happen to professionals whose very job it is to make unbiased decisions.
In one study 155 judges in the U.S. were asked how likely their decisions were to be overturned when compared to their colleagues . Or put another way, was their ‘appeal rate’ higher or lower than their colleagues? The judges thought far more highly of their own abilities than was actually the case. Over 50% of them believed that their ‘appeal rate’ was in the lowest quartile of overturned decisions compared to their colleagues. Less than 5% believed their appeal rate was in the highest quartile. Clearly these estimates don’t stack up.
In fact, this egocentricity goes far beyond the workplace. Other studies have shown that we all have a tendency to believe that we are ‘above average’ when compared to our peers. People tend to think that they have more desirable and less undesirable characteristics than other people . People also tend to consider their personal risk of misfortune as being less than other people’s .
That’s not to say that we are all insufferable egotists. It is just that we spend all of our time viewing things from our own perspective so our own contribution naturally gets distorted. In fact, people’s egocentric bias can be tempered when they are exposed to other people’s perceptions of themselves .
So the next time you feel disappointed when your stellar contribution didn’t quite get the recognition you feel it deserved, perhaps reflect for a moment and talk to your colleagues about their contributions. Your own contribution will have been noticed, maybe just not to the extent you thought it should be. Take comfort in knowing you’re an important part of a solid team because, after all, we’re stronger together than alone.
- Gilovich, T. Medvec, V. & 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(2), 211-222.
- Ross, L. Greene, D. & House, P. (1977). The “False Consensus Effect”: An Egocentric Bias in Social Perception and Attribution Processes Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 13(3), 279-301.
- Guthrie, C. Rachlinski, J. & Wistrich, A. (2001). Inside the Judicial Mind Cornell Law Review 86(4), 777-830.
- Alicke, M. D., Klotz, M. L., Breitenbecher, D. L., Yurak, T. J., & Vredenburg, D. S. (1995). Personal contact, individuation, and the better-than-average effect. Journal of personality and social psychology, 68(5), 804.
- Weinstein, N. D. (1980). Unrealistic optimism about future life events. Journal of personality and social psychology, 39(5), 806.