By Ali Campbell/Period 1

Actor-Observer Bias
The actor-observer basis explains why you describe your actions as reasonable while those of others as out of -line. More formally, the actor-observer bias refers to the tendency to attribute our own behavior to external causes (i.e. attributing our behavior to the context of a situation) but the behavior of others to internal causes. It is classified as an attributional bias (Ablongman).
The term was coined by social psychologists and basically states that people make different attributions depending on whether they are the actor or the observer in the situation. Researchers have shown that the bias is much more pronounced in negative situations (About). For example, individuals with negative experiences tend to blame the situation for the outcome rather than thinking introspectively. Comparatively, when something negative happens to someone else (thus, the actor becomes the observer), people are more apt to judge the person’s character or judgement. Because the actor cannot directly observe their own behavior, they tend to emphasize the importance of their environment. When the actor becomes the observer, they can directly study the behavior of another person, and thus consider the reasoning behind the actor’s actions.
The theory was proposed by Jones and Nisbett in 1971. They claimed, “..."actors tend to attribute the causes of their behavior to stimuli inherent in the situation, while observers tend to attribute behavior to stable dispositions of the actor” (About). Studies were conducted in which participants were shown videotapes of their behavior. Compared to their judgements recorded before watching the tape, the ‘actors’ made fewer external attributions. Though there are several interpretations for why this bias occurs, most psychologists agree that people want to view themselves in a positive light, and thus are motivated to attribute their own negative behaviors to outside forces. People are less concerned with their positive or negative views of others, though, hence the judgement of internal motivations.

Here are some videos delineating the video. Notice the disparity between peoples’ interpretations of others versus their interpretation of their own behavior.

In Needham High....
When teachers ridicule students, the students tend to attribute the criticisms to their environment: “He/she hates me,” or “He/she never taught us that,” for example. But, when students see others being punished, or ridiculed, they tend to seek internal sources. For example, “[The student] was being rude. He’s a terrible person.”

For a more in-depth explanation along with some other interpretations of the bias, visit this site:

“The Actor- Observer Bias.”
Psych Wiki. Psych Wiki, 29 June 2010. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. <>.
“Actor-Observer Effect.”
Ablongman. Ablongman, 2011. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. <>.
Cherry, Kendra. “What Is the Actor Observer Bias?” About. The New York Times Company, 2012. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. <>.