An egocentric bias involves a perspective that is heavily weighted towards a person’s own point of view. One with such a cognitive bias has difficulty seeing things from another’s perspective. In this way, it contributes to underestimating how others’ points of view differ from their own. It can even cause one to disregard or ignore others’ perspectives all together in extreme cases.
We all operate out of our own mental models and patterns of filtering experiences we face. We will demonstrate varying degrees of distortion in how we interpret circumstances and information. For most of us, our mental models may feel accurate, yet they are incomplete. If someone else looked into our lives, they would see things we may not see. Our cognitive system is imperfect, as there is a margin of error between what we see and how we recall events.
There is usefulness to how our cognition functions, as it is based on heuristics. Our brain needs an efficient way of interpreting incoming information and processing it quickly enough so as to save resources. We develop certain heuristics, or automatic ways of responding to avoid depletion of decision making energy. These heuristics, quick interpretations and patterns of responding that we develop can be beneficial. However, occasionally, errors can occur in this processing system. Occasionally, we can make assumptions based on past experiences that are faulty. We become accustomed to seeing things from our own perspective and it can require effort and intention to consistently see things from another’s’ point of view. For most, these periodic errors are understandable and can be addressed with minimal “cost.”
The foundation of egocentric bias can be found in early developmental psychological theories. Children have a strong egocentric focus and in the process of healthy maturation and development, the focus becomes less egocentric.
Egocentric bias can lead to us projecting our beliefs, opinions, and emotions onto others. We may assume that because we have a certain political belief, those around us do and should believe the same. It involves an over focus on one’s own emotions and disregards others’ beliefs and feelings. The egocentric bias can cause someone to overestimate or more credit for their effort and contribution. It can lead to overemphasize how much others are thinking about or judging them, particularly if they had an embarrassing experience.
There is a continuum of how distorted our perceptions can be. With egocentric bias, one is unable to see another perspective, which can become problematic, especially in relationships. At the extreme end of the egocentric continuum is narcissism. Individuals with narcissistic qualities, fail to understand how others may see and experience things. They can be dismissive and even angry when people do not align to their thinking.
One can see how an egocentric bias would contribute to problems in a relationship. Those with such biases lack empathy. Not having empathy and an ability to appreciate how life is for another person will create conflict and present a barrier for closeness in relationships. Being able to understand and respect another’s feelings and opinions, even if they differ from your is critical to a healthy relationship. It requires an exchange and acceptance that others’ experiences are valid and matter. By not understanding others’ perspectives, we are sending the message that their experience is not valued. In doing so, the unintended consequence is likely to be that the person does not feel valued as an individual. This can create damage and the breakdown of trust in relationships.
There are some tactics to incorporate to help reduce egocentric bias, as long as an individual is open to the concept. Increasing self-awareness would be the first step, particularly as it relates to understanding the cost of having a strong egocentric perspective. Practicing reframing techniques can be useful, being intentional about pulling back and trying to see things from another’s point of view. Slowing down and taking more time to challenge one’s assumptions. Understanding one’s filters and mental models in more detail can lead to more accurate interpretations of events. Developing empathy and inquiry skills to understand others’ experiences. This requires getting to the other side of the table to consider how others are seeing a situation, and temporarily suspending one’s own judgment in order to do so. Developing a healthy detachment with our personal biases, emotions, and opinions can make more room for additional interpretations. Pursuing external feedback from others about our viewpoints can help gain healthier perspective as well.
Reducing an egocentric bias will generally lead to increased well-being, improved relationships, and healthier interactions with others. For those with stronger biases, therapeutic intervention from a mental health professional can help. If you or someone you know is struggling with this challenge and is experiencing negative implications in life because of it, consider seeking professional support.
Karen Doll has been a Licensed Psychologist in the Twin Cities for 20 years, working in organizational consulting. She leverages her education in Clinical Psychology with her leadership assessment expertise in her practice. She is an executive coach focusing on helping people maximize their potential.