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Psychol Bull. 2006 Nov;132(6):895-919.

The actor-observer asymmetry in attribution: a (surprising) meta-analysis.

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Department of Psychology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA.


The actor-observer hypothesis (E. E. Jones & R. E. Nisbett, 1971) states that people tend to explain their own behavior with situation causes and other people's behavior with person causes. Widely known in psychology, this asymmetry has been described as robust, firmly established, and pervasive. However, a meta-analysis on 173 published studies revealed average effect sizes from d = -0.016 to d = 0.095. A moderator analysis showed that the asymmetry held only when the actor was portrayed as highly idiosyncratic, when hypothetical events were explained, when actor and observer were intimates, or when free-response explanations were coded. In addition, the asymmetry held for negative events, but a reverse asymmetry held for positive events. This valence effect may indicate a self-serving pattern in attribution, but across valence, no actor-observer asymmetry exists.

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