Happier Than Thou? A Self-Enhancement Bias in Emotion Attribution

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Abstract

People tend to judge themselves as exhibiting above average levels of desirable traits—including competence, kindness, and life satisfaction—but does this self-enhancement extend to emotional responses? Here, we explore this question by having people attribute emotions to themselves and others following simple gambles. We demonstrate that people display an emotional self-enhancement bias that varies with the context of the emotion-eliciting situation. People judge themselves as experiencing more positive emotional reactions on average, and they also believed that others’ emotions are more sensitive to gamble outcomes, such that people judge others to experience stronger negative affect in response to negative outcomes (Study 1). This self-enhancement bias further tracks social distance, such that people attribute less positive and more negative emotion to more dissimilar, as compared with more similar others (Study 2). People also predict less favorable emotional states for themselves and others experiencing events in the future, as compared with the present (Study 3), suggesting that this attribution bias extends across multiple dimensions of psychological distance. Broadly, these data suggest that people exhibit self-enhancement in emotion attribution, but do so in subtle ways that depend on situational and social factors.

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