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Notes on Beneffectance


Up: Notes on Research


"One of the best established findings in social psychology is that people perceive themselves readily as the origin of good effects and reluctantly as the origin of ill effects ... The finding has variously been labeled ego-defensive, self-serving, egocentric, or egotistic attribution in these reviews. [A] new designation is suggested here: beneffectance, which is a compound of beneficence (doing good) and effectance (competence). Beneffectance is thus the tendency to take credit for success while denying responsibility for failure"

-quoted from A. Greenwald (1980) "The Totalitarian Ego: Fabrication and Revision of Personal History"


Review papers cited by Greenwald


William R. Bowerman (1978) "Subjective Competence: The Structure, Process and Function of Self-referent Causal Attributions" Journal of the Theory of Social Behaviour, Vol 8, pages 45-57 doi:10.1111/j.1468-5914.1978.tb00391.x

The present paper advances a formal theory that (I) postulates that feelings of competence, effectiveness, and self-esteem, called here ‘subjective competence’, are generated by specific structural relationships among certain kinds of self-referent causal attributions connecting a person to affective experiences, (2) posits that there is a motivation to maximize the level of subjective competence that is generated by self-referent causal attributions, and (3) delineates a typology of ways in which an initial self-referent causal sequence can be changed to maximize the level of subjective competence. This account of the structure, function, and process of self-referent causal attributions and their interrelationships constitutes a social psychological theory that has a wide range of potential application as a descriptive, predictive, and integrative device. The theory offers a view of the organism that can account for the highest level of altruistic and rational thought and behavior as well as the most selfish and irrational thought and behaviour.


On overview, this seems a particularly thorough and useful source: the concept of attribution and the different ways attribution can be ego-enhancing, are explored in detail.


Gifford W. Bradley (1978) "Self-serving biases in the attribution process: A reexamination of the fact or fiction question." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 36(1) 56-7


(Chapter 9 of) R. Jervis (1976) Perception and misperception in international politics. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press


Dale T. Miller and Michael Ross (1975) "Self-serving biases in the attribution of causality: Fact or fiction?"Self-serving biases in the attribution of causality: Fact or fiction?" Psychological Bulletin, Vol 82(2) 213-225

A review of the evidence for and against the proposition that self-serving biases affect attributions of causality indicates that there is little empirical support for the proposition in its most general form. Some support was found for the contention that individuals engage in self-enhancing attributions under conditions of success, but only minimal evidence suggested that individuals engage in self-protective attributions under conditions of failure. Moreover, it was proposed that the self-enhancing effect may not be due to motivational distortion, but rather to the tendency of people to (a) expect their behavior to produce success, (b) discern a closer covariation between behavior and outcomes in the case of increasing success than in the case of constant failure, and (c) misconstrue the meaning of contingency.


D. G. Myers,  and J. R. Ridl (1979) 'A better than average insight into pride', Psychology

Today, August, pp. 89-98. [couldn't find this online or in local library]


Snyder, M. L., Stephan, W. G. & Rosenfield, C. (1978). "Attributional egotism". In: J. H. Harvey, W. J. Ickes, & R. F. Kidd (Eds.) New directions in attribution research (Vol. 2). Hillsdale, N. J.: Erlbaum


Wicklund, R. A. (1978) "Three years later". In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Cognitive theories in social psychology. New York: Academic Press


Wortman, C. B. (1978) "Causal attributions and personal control". In: J. H. Harvey, W. J. Ickes, & R. F. Kidd (Eds.) New directions in attribution research (Vol. 2). Hillsdale, N. J.: Erlbaum


P. E. Tetlock, A. Levi (1982). "Attribution bias: On the inconclusiveness of the cognition-motivation debate" Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1982


For a more up to date survey on beneffectance, see the book Mistakes Were Made but not by me.


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