Self-Enhancement and Social Responsibility: On Caring More, but Doing Less, Than Others


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to S. Pious, Department of Psychology, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06459–0408.


Self-enhancement biases have been found in a variety of self-rated skills, traits, and abilities, yet past research has not examined whether people show such biases in ratings of their social concern and activism. In the present paper, we report the results of two surveys on this question. In the first survey, 549 adults rated their level of concern and activism on one of six different issues (e.g., homelessness). The results showed a general pattern of self-enhancement in professed concern but self-deprecation in activism. In the second survey, a random-digit dialing method was used to contact a representative sample of the general public. A total of 817 respondents rated their level of concern and activism on the issues of environmental protection, animal welfare, and world hunger. The second survey also explored two techniques for debiasing self-enhancement in concern: one based on a cognitive consistency model, and one based on the salience of others' actions. Findings from the second survey replicated those of the first, and both debiasing techniques failed to reduce self-ratings of concern. Moreover, a sizable number of respondents said that they would do more if others showed more concern. These results are consistent with a social dilemma in which citizens feel a personal sense of concern, but are reluctant to act until others show greater concern.