Is there a universal positivity bias in attributions? A meta-analytic review of individual, developmental, and cultural differences in the self-serving attributional bias

Psychol Bull. 2004 Sep;130(5):711-47. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.130.5.711.


Researchers have suggested the presence of a self-serving attributional bias, with people making more internal, stable, and global attributions for positive events than for negative events. This study examined the magnitude, ubiquity, and adaptiveness of this bias. The authors conducted a meta-analysis of 266 studies, yielding 503 independent effect sizes. The average d was 0.96, indicating a large bias. The bias was present in nearly all samples. There were significant age differences, with children and older adults displaying the largest biases. Asian samples displayed significantly smaller biases (d = 0.30) than U.S. (d = 1.05) or Western (d = 0.70) samples. Psychopathology was associated with a significantly attenuated bias (d = 0.48) compared with samples without psychopathology (d = 1.28) and community samples (d = 1.08). The bias was smallest for samples with depression (0.21), anxiety (0.46), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (0.55). Findings confirm that the self-serving attributional bias is pervasive in the general population but demonstrates significant variability across age, culture, and psychopathology.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Culture*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Self Concept*