Deutsch: Akteur-Beobachter-Verzerrung / Español: Sesgo del actor-observador / Português: Viés do ator-observador / Français: Biais acteur-observateur / Italiano: Bias dell'attore-osservatore

Actor/observer bias refers to the tendency for actors to make external attributions and observers to make internal attributions. Actor/observer bias, moreover is the tendency to attribute the behavior of others to internal causes while attributing one's own behavior to external causes such as situations and circumstances

Actor-Observer Bias refers to a cognitive bias in the field of social psychology that describes the tendency of individuals to attribute their own actions to external factors while attributing others' actions to their character or disposition. This bias highlights a difference in how we explain our own behavior compared to how we explain the behavior of others. When we are the actor, particularly in negative situations, we tend to believe that our behavior is influenced by the situation we are in. However, when observing others, we are more likely to attribute their actions to their personality or inherent traits, often overlooking the situational influences.


The actor-observer bias is an essential concept in understanding human social interactions and the complexities of perception and attribution in interpersonal relationships. It is grounded in the fundamental attribution error, which is the general tendency to overemphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while underemphasizing the role of situational factors.

The actor-observer bias can significantly impact social relations, contributing to misunderstandings, conflicts, and the misjudgment of others' intentions and behaviors. For example, if a friend is late to a meeting, an observer might think, "They're always late; they're so irresponsible," attributing the lateness to the friend's character. In contrast, if the observer is late themselves, they might justify it by saying, "I was caught in traffic," attributing their lateness to external circumstances.

This bias is influenced by various factors, including our access to information (we know more about our circumstances than we do about others'), our focus of attention (we are more aware of the external environment when we act but focus more on the person when we observe), and our motivational biases (we have a desire to see ourselves in a positive light).

Application Areas

The actor-observer bias has implications across various domains within psychology, including:

  • Social psychology: It helps explain interpersonal conflicts and misunderstandings.
  • Clinical psychology: Understanding this bias can improve empathy and communication between therapists and clients.
  • Organizational behavior: Recognizing this bias can enhance team dynamics and leadership effectiveness by fostering more accurate attributions of colleagues' behaviors.

Well-Known Examples

A classic example of the actor-observer bias is seen in the workplace. When an employee misses a deadline, their manager might think it's due to the employee's laziness (an internal attribution), while the employee might attribute their delay to an unrealistic deadline or an unexpected workload (external attributions).

Treatment and Risks

The actor-observer bias can lead to miscommunications, strained relationships, and unfair judgments. Awareness and understanding of this bias are crucial steps in mitigating its effects. Strategies to reduce the bias include increasing empathy, adopting others' perspectives, and consciously attributing external factors to others' behaviors, especially in negative contexts.

Similar Terms or Synonyms

  • Fundamental attribution error (related but more general concept)
  • Self-serving bias (a related bias where individuals attribute their successes to internal factors and their failures to external factors)


The actor-observer bias is a cognitive bias in social psychology that describes the tendency to attribute our own behavior to situational factors while attributing others' behavior to their personal characteristics. This bias affects how we perceive and interact with others, often leading to misjudgments and conflicts. Understanding and addressing this bias can improve interpersonal understanding and communication.


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