Self-Serving Beliefs

How well did you do on the SAT? When James Shepperd (1993) asked college students about their performance on this infamous college entrance test, he uncovered two interesting patterns. First, the students overesti- mated their actual scores by an average of 17 points. This inflationary distortion was most pronounced among those with relatively low scores, and it persisted somewhat even when students knew that the experimenter would check their ac- ademic files. Second, a majority of students whose SAT scores were low described their scores as inaccurate and the test in general as invalid. In fact, the SATs for the group as a whole were predictive of their grade-point averages. It’s not that people are delusional. But as memories fade, which occurs with the passage of time, the potential for self-enhancing recollections of test scores is increased.

When students receive exam grades, those who do well take credit for the success; those who do poorly complain about the instructor or test questions. When researchers have articles accepted for publication, they credit the quality of their work; when articles are rejected, they blame the editors and reviewers. When gamblers win a bet, they marvel at how skilled they are; when they lose, they blame fluke events that transformed near victory into defeat. Whether peo- ple have high or low self-esteem, explain their own outcomes publicly or in pri- vate, and try to be honest or to make a good impression, there is bias. 

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