Feeling "holier than thou": are self-serving assessments produced by errors in self- or social prediction?

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2000 Dec;79(6):861-75. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.79.6.861.


People typically believe they are more likely to engage in selfless, kind, and generous behaviors than their peers, a result that is both logically and statistically suspect. However, this oft-documented tendency presents an important ambiguity. Do people feel "holier than thou" because they harbor overly cynical views of their peers (but accurate impressions of themselves) or overly charitable views of themselves (and accurate impressions of their peers)? Four studies suggested it was the latter. Participants consistently overestimated the likelihood that they would act in generous or selfless ways, whereas their predictions of others were considerably more accurate. Two final studies suggest this divergence in accuracy arises, in part, because people are unwilling to consult population base rates when predicting their own behavior but use this diagnostic information more readily when predicting others'.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Altruism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Peer Group*
  • Self-Assessment*
  • Social Perception*
  • Students / psychology