A New Look at Motivated Inference: Are Self-Serving Theories of Sucess a Product of Motivational Forces?

by David Dunning, Ann Leuenberger, and David A. Sherman

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Volume 69, Issue 1, pp. 58-68) 1995
  • Psychology

People construct idiosyncratic, self-serving models of excellence or success in social domains, in part, to bolster self-esteem. In 3 studies, participants tended to articulate self-serving theories of success under experimental conditions in which pressures to maintain self-esteem were present, but not under conditions in which such pressures were absent. Participants assigned to role-play being a therapist were more self-serving in their assessments of the characteristics needed to be a "successful therapist" than were participants assigned to observe the role play (Study 1). Participants failing at an intellectual task articulated self-serving theories about the attributes crucial to success in marriage (Study 2) and evaluated targets similar to themselves more favorably than they did dissimilar targets (Study 3), tendencies not observed for participants succeeding at the task. Discussion centers on issues for future research suggested by these findings.