What Is the Egocentric Bias? | Definition & Examples

The egocentric bias refers to people’s tendency to fixate on their own perspective when examining events or beliefs. Under the egocentric bias, we see things as being more centred on ourselves than is actually the case. This results in a distorted view of reality that makes it difficult for us to acknowledge other people’s perspectives and feelings.

Example: The egocentric bias
You are asked to give a welcome speech to new students. As you start talking, you notice how nervous you feel, and assume that your nervousness is obvious to others because of your movements or your shaky voice. This thought increases your stress even more.

However, in reality none of this is obvious to your audience. In fact, they are more stressed out because this is their first day of school. The egocentric bias causes you to focus on your own anxieties and fail to see things from the other person’s point of view.

What is the egocentric bias?

The egocentric bias is a type of cognitive bias that skews our perception, from how we initially construe what happens to us, to how we recall it later on. In other words, we perceive and recall events in such a way as to enhance our own importance. The egocentric bias is universal and operates at an unconscious level. This causes us to perceive life through a self-centred filter.

The egocentric bias manifests in different ways, for example:

  • In group discussions, people tend to exaggerate their own importance. Each person sees themselves as having more impact on the opinions of others than is the case.
  • People find it easier to remember information if it somehow refers to themselves.
  • When people collaborate on a project, they tend to give more credit to themselves than to other team members.
  • People often overestimate how much others share their attitudes and preferences.

Overall, the egocentric bias causes us to interpret reality in a way that always puts us in the spotlight. As a result, we see ourselves as the cause as well as the target of other people’s behaviour.

Why does egocentric bias occur?

The egocentric bias occurs mainly due to how we process and organise information. More specifically, there are three interrelated factors that play a role in egocentric bias.

  • We have more information about ourselves than about others. Obvious as this may seem, we go about our daily lives seeing things from our own perspective. As a result, we have access to information such as our inner thoughts and emotions, which we can’t have for other people. Because of this, information about ourselves can exert disproportionate influence on our judgement. Even in situations where we need to see things through other people’s perspective, like giving advice to a friend, we still tend to use our own viewpoint as a reference point.
  • Our memories are arranged around ourselves. It simply is more efficient for our brains to organise experience in terms of what happens to us than in any other format. Information that is self-referential is easier to recall because it is more relevant to us.
  • We rely on heuristics or mental shortcuts. Our brains prefer the quick and easy path to making decisions or forming judgements. Assuming that everyone else shares our perspective or thinks as we do is faster and easier than making an effort to see things from a different viewpoint.

Why is egocentric bias a problem?

The egocentric bias is a problem because it causes us to be more self-centred than we realise. In other words, it makes us think that our influence and importance are greater than they actually are. Due to this, the egocentric bias gives rise to other types of bias such as self-serving bias and the false consensus effect (a variation of perception bias).

Because of this tendency to focus too much on ourselves, egocentric bias can significantly cloud our judgement, causing us to treat others unfairly. It also prevents us from empathising with others, and often leads us to either assume that others share our feelings and viewpoints or ignore how others feel or think altogether.

Egocentric bias examples

Egocentric bias can explain why experts in a certain area have a hard time communicating with or teaching amateurs.

Example: Egocentric bias in the workplace
Suppose that you start working as a salesperson in a new industry. During the first few weeks, you hear all your colleagues talking about the company’s product (an ecommerce software application) using acronyms and jargon you are not familiar with. After a few months, these terms become part of your vocabulary. Now, when you are pitching to prospective clients, they don’t seem to understand what the product actually does, or how they would use it.

This is a common manifestation of egocentric bias called the ‘curse of knowledge‘. When we become experts in something, we start to forget what it’s like not to know what we know. As a result, when we communicate with others, we assume they have the background to understand us, even though this may not be true.

In a business context, this means that salespeople who know all the ins and outs of a product might have a harder time presenting their solution to prospective clients in a way that matches their knowledge level.

How can we reduce egocentric bias?

Egocentric bias is not easy to overcome because it feels so natural to see things from our perspective. However, there are techniques you can use to reduce it. 

  • Be more aware. Just like with other types of cognitive bias, the first step is to acknowledge that everyone is biased to some extent. Accepting that we all tend to see life like a movie where we are the protagonist will help you understand your own and other people’s behaviour.
  • Use self-distancing language. In times of introspection (i.e., our inner monologue), we can try referring to ourselves using the second-person pronoun (‘you’) or our own name, instead of using the first-person pronoun (‘I’). For example, instead of thinking ‘Why am I feeling this way?’, we can ask ‘Why are you feeling this way?’. Although this technique may feel odd at first, it can help us increase the distance from our own egocentric perspectives.
  • Use ‘debiasing’ techniques. Techniques meant to interrupt unconscious decision-making processes and judgements can help force us into a more analytic mode of thinking. For example, asking for feedback, slowing down our thought process, or considering alternatives (e.g., alternative interpretations about an event), can help us switch from our egocentric perception.

Frequently asked questions

What is the spotlight effect?

The spotlight effect is a phenomenon where we overestimate how much attention others pay to us. As a result, we feel others notice our appearance or behavior more than they actually do.  For example, if you wake up late and go to school in a stained sweater, you may think that everyone noticed. This occurs primarily due to the egocentric bias: we are so focused on ourselves that we forget others are also occupied with themselves or whatever they are doing.

What is the illusion of transparency?

The illusion of transparency is a variation of the egocentric bias. Under the illusion of transparency, we wrongly assume that others can easily “read” our current mental state, be it nervousness, fear, or joy.  For example, in public speaking, individuals who feel nervous about addressing an audience assume that their nervousness is more apparent to others than it actually is.

What is the empathy gap?

The empathy gap is a cognitive bias that makes it difficult for us to relate to feelings we are not currently experiencing. As a result, we struggle to understand other people’s perspectives when they are in a different mental state than ours. One of the causes of the empathy gap is the egocentric bias, or our tendency to to rely too heavily on our own viewpoint.

Sources for this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Nikolopoulou, K. (2023, March 18). What Is the Egocentric Bias? | Definition & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved 22 February 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/bias-in-research/the-egocentric-bias/

Sources

Goleman, D. (1984, June 12). A BIAS PUTS SELF AT CENTER OF EVERYTHING. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1984/06/12/science/a-bias-puts-self-at-center-of-everything.html

The Egocentric Bias: Why It’s Hard to See Things from a Different Perspective. (n.d.). https://effectiviology.com/egocentric-bias/

Vedantam, S. (2020, February 26). “Hidden Brain”: How “Egocentric Bias” Can Lead Us Astray. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2020/02/26/809530189/hidden-brain-how-egocentric-bias-can-lead-us-astray

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Kassiani Nikolopoulou

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex scientific information into easily accessible articles to help students. She specialises in writing about research methods and research bias.