The Egocentric Bias: Why It’s Hard to See Things from a Different Perspective

The Egocentric Bias

 

The egocentric bias is a cognitive bias that causes people to rely too heavily on their own point of view when they examine events in their life or when they try to see things from other people’s perspective.

For example, if you do something embarrassing, the egocentric bias might cause you to overestimate the degree to which other people are likely to notice it, because you naturally assume that they care about your actions as much as you do.

Since the egocentric bias influences the way we process and remember information, it’s important to understand it. In the following article, you will understand what the egocentric bias is and why we experience is, see some examples of how the egocentric bias affects us, and learn what you can do in order to mitigate its influence.

 

What is the egocentric bias

The egocentric bias is a cognitive bias that causes people to rely too much on their own point of view when they examine or remember events in their life. Essentially, this means that people tend to either underestimate how different other people’s viewpoint is from their own, or to ignore other people’s viewpoint entirely.

Accordingly, the egocentric bias causes people to project their beliefs, desires, thoughts, and emotions onto other people, especially when those people are close to them. Furthermore, the egocentric bias also hinders people’s ability to empathize with others, since it causes them to focus primarily on their own emotions, and to ignore how other people feel.

In some cases, the egocentric bias can also cause people to believe that situations that favor them are fair, even if they think that favoring others in a similar manner would be unjust. This means, for example, that people might think they deserve to receive more than others when it comes to splitting positive outcomes, such as credit or profits, while they might also think they deserve to receive less than others when it comes to splitting negative outcomes, such as blame or penalties.

Note: there is a related cognitive bias called the altercentric bias, which has a somewhat opposite effect than the egocentric bias, since it causes people’s judgment of their own emotional state to be influenced by other people’s emotions. People experience both these biases to varying degrees, and display different levels of egocentrism and altercentrism in different situations.

 

Examples of the egocentric bias

There are various examples of how the egocentric bias affects people in their everyday life:

  • The egocentric bias can cause someone who is giving a public talk to assume that their nervousness is more apparent to others than is actually the case.
  • The egocentric bias can cause someone to overestimate the amount of work that they contributed to a group project.
  • The egocentric bias can cause someone to assume that his colleagues all share his political beliefs and social values.
  • The egocentric bias can cause someone who did something embarrassing a few days ago to overestimate the likelihood that others will remember it now.
  • The egocentric bias can cause someone to remember themselves as having been the key player in a past event, despite the fact that they only played a relatively minor role in it.

 

Why we experience the egocentric bias

The egocentric bias, like other cognitive biases, occurs due to the limitations of our cognitive system, and namely due to the imperfect way we process information. Specifically, the egocentric bias occurs primarily due to the fact that we spend the vast majority of the time seeing things from our own perspective, so we tend to naturally examine and remember events primarily through our personal point of view.

Even when we realize that we should adjust our perspective to see things through other people’s eyes, we tend to anchor this new perspective to our own, and we often fail to adjust from our original viewpoint enough to properly assess how other people feel.

The reason why we are predisposed to this issue is that our cognitive system is heuristic-based, meaning that it often tries to run calculations and form judgments in a quick way, that reduces our use of cognitive resources, at the cost of causing us to form incorrect judgments. Accordingly, our cognitive system finds it faster and easier to simply assume that other people’s thought process is similar to our own, than to try and assess what their perspective is actually like.

Furthermore, when it comes to how we remember past events, another reason why we tend to experience the egocentric bias is that our cognitive system generally arranges our memories around ourselves, since our own presence serves as a stable constant that stands at the center of our attention most of the time.

Overall, we experience the egocentric bias because of the imperfect way our cognitive system works. Specifically, we are so used to seeing things from our own perspective, that we find it difficult to account for the fact that other people’s viewpoint is different from ours. As such, our cognitive system assumes by default that other people have a perspective that is similar to our own, in situations in which we try to assess what other people think or how other people feel.

 

The influence of background factors

There are various background factors which affect the likelihood that a person will experience the egocentric bias, as well as the degree to which that person will experience this bias.

A person’s age, for example, can significantly affect the likelihood that they will experience the egocentric bias, and in general, it appears that adolescents and older adults display increased egocentricity compared to young and middle-aged adults. Similarly, the number of languages that a person speaks also plays a role in a people’s predisposition to the egocentric bias, and bilinguals appear to be less likely to experience the egocentric bias than monolinguals.

However, it’s important to note that such background factors only have a relatively minor influence on people’s predisposition to the egocentric bias, and that every person experiences the egocentric bias to some degree, since it’s a natural byproduct of our universal cognitive system.

 

Related cognitive biases

Since the egocentric bias can affect us in a variety of ways, it’s considered to be the primary mechanism behind several other cognitive biases. These biases are often viewed as subtypes of the egocentric bias, meaning that they represent specific and notable ways in which the egocentric bias affects our thinking. Such biases include, for example:

  • The illusion of transparency- the illusion of transparency is a cognitive bias that causes people to believe that their internal state, in terms of their thoughts and emotions, is more apparent to others than is actually the case. This occurs as a result of the egocentric bias, and specifically because our internal state is so readily available to us that we forget that it’s not as readily available to others.
  • The spotlight effect- the spotlight effect is a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate the degree to which other people notice and care about their appearance and actions. This occurs as a result of the egocentric bias, and specifically because we are so focused on our own actions, that we forget that other people are not as focused on them.
  • The false consensus effect- the false consensus effect is a cognitive bias that causes people to believe that their opinions and beliefs are more common in the population than they actually are. This occurs as a result of the egocentric bias, and specifically because we are so used to our own opinions and beliefs, that we struggle to remember that other people might hold different ones.

 

How to reduce your egocentric bias

Experiencing some degree of the egocentric bias is normal, since, as we saw above, this bias occurs due to the way our cognitive system works. Nevertheless, there are some cases where it can be beneficial to mitigate the egocentric bias that you experience. Doing so can help you assess situations more clearly, and allow you to make more rational decisions.

The first step to reducing this bias is to simply be aware of it. However, while being aware of the egocentric bias is crucial to your ability to mitigate it, it’s not enough if you want to be able to debias yourself successfully.

As such, in the following sections you will see a few useful debiasing techniques that you can use to reduce the degree to which you experience the egocentric bias. These techniques are similar to one another, since they all help you reduce the egocentric bias by enabling you to view things from a different perspective, and by reducing your inherent focus on your own point of view.

 

Use self-distancing language

One way to reduce the egocentric bias is to increase your psychological self-distance. You can accomplish this using a simple self-distancing technique, that allows you to see things from a different perspective.

Specifically, you can increase your self-distance by thinking about the situation that you are in using self-distancing language, meaning that instead of thinking about yourself using the first-person pronoun (e.g. “what should I do”), you should think about yourself using the second-person pronoun (e.g. “what should you do”) or using your own name (e.g. “what should John do”).

Doing this helps you increase your psychological self-distance, which in turn can help reduce the egocentric bias that you experience.

 

Consider alternative viewpoints

Since the egocentric bias occurs due to our innate focus on own perspective, you can mitigate it by trying to visualize the situation from a different viewpoint. Specifically, instead of looking at things only from your own perspective, you can either try to see things from someone else’s viewpoint, or you can try to see things from a generalized external perspective.

For example, if you got into an argument with a friend, you can try to see things from their perspective, in order to understand why they feel the way that they do.

Similarly, considering arguments that are at odds with your stance can also help reduce your self-focus, and thus mitigate the egocentric bias. For example, if you believe in a certain political stance, you can try to come up with reasons why a competing stance might also be good. This will allow you to understand why people support that alternative stance, and will help you assess your own beliefs in a more rational manner.

 

Increase your self-awareness

Being more self-aware can help you reduce the egocentric bias, by helping you become conscious of your innate tendency to focus on yourself.

You can increase your self-awareness in various ways. One study, for example, found that doing something as simple as sitting in front of a mirror while making a decision can help increase your self-awareness, and reduce the egocentric bias that you experience.

Other techniques could also work, as long as they accomplish the same thing, by helping you become actively conscious of yourself, and of your tendency to focus on your own perspective.

 

Other debiasing techniques

There are varioous general debiasing techniques that you can use in order to reduce the egocentric bias that you experience.

These techniques include, for example, slowing down your reasoning process, asking others for feedback, and creating an optimal environment for decision making.

To learn more about these techniques, see the guide to debiasing, which explains how cognitive debiasing works, and how you can use debiasing techniques to reduce the influence of various cognitive biases, including the egocentric bias.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • The egocentric bias is a cognitive bias that causes people to rely too much on their own point of view when they examine or remember various events in their life.
  • Accordingly, the egocentric bias can cause people to underestimate how different other people’s perspective is from their own, and to project their own beliefs, desires, thoughts, and emotions onto other people. Furthermore, the egocentric bias can cause people to believe that situations which favor them are fair, even if they think that favoring others in a similar manner would be unjust.
  • The egocentric bias can, for example, cause people to overestimate the degree to which other people notice their actions, or to overestimate their contribution to a shared project compared to other group members.
  • We experience the egocentric bias because we are used to seeing things from our own perspective, which makes it difficult for us to imagine other people’s viewpoint and which causes our cognitive system to rely on our perspective as a primary point of reference.
  • There are several techniques that can help you reduce the egocentric bias, including using self-distancing language, considering alternative viewpoints, and increasing your self-awareness. In addition, you can also use general debiasing techniques, such as asking for feedback from others, and slowing down your reasoning process.