Depression, self-focused attention, and the self-serving attributional bias

Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski, John Burling, Karyn Tibbs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Research suggests that nondepressed and depressed individuals differ in their attributions for success and failure: whereas nondepressed individuals exhibit more internal attributions for success than for failure (the self-serving bias), this bias is attentuated for depressed individuals. It has also been found that whereas nondepressed individuals prefer self-focus after success to self-focus after failure, depressed individuals prefer self-focus after failure to self-focus after success (i.e. they exhibit a depressive self-focusing style). Pyszczynski and Greenberg [(1987a) Coping with negative life events: Clinical and social psychological perspectives. New York: Academic Press; (1987b) Psychological Bulletin, 102, 122-138] have proposed that this depressive self-focusing style accounts for the lack of a self-serving attributional bias in depressed persons. To test this idea, depressed and nondepressed subjects were led to experience a success or failure. These subjects were then led to focus either internally or externally, in order to create conditions that simulate either the depressive or nondepressive pattern of attentional focus following performance outcomes. As predicted, conditions analogous to the depressive self-focusing style led to the typical depressed pattern of outcome attributions; in contrast, conditions analogous to the nondepressive pattern of attentional focus led to a self-serving attributional bias for all subjects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)959-965
Number of pages7
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology

Cite this