Self-Serving Bias & Stockholm Syndrome — A-to-Z Blog Challenge, Literary Terms

SHere we are at S. I’m running out of clever things to say. Maybe I am not as clever of a writer as I thought. We are nearing the end for the challenge, with only 8 letters left.

Today we tackle Self-Serving Bias and Stockholm Syndrome. Words you may have heard often, but like many other words, never thought of implementing them as literary terms.

Hard to think that after this month, I won’t hear from many of you. I certainly hope I do, but I will cherish these last few days as we complete the challenge.

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Self-Serving Bias

Self-Serving Bias is a cognitive or perceptual process that is distorted by the need to maintain and enhance self-esteem. Is it me, or does that sound like I just said a bunch of nothing with big words?

Basically, when a person is faced with rejection or negative feedback, they shift their focus on their own strengths and achievements than their faults and failures. If this kind of person is in a group, they tend to take credit for the groups work as their own. These individuals are best described as protecting their ego from injury. Many people exhibit this behavior, but only a few to an extreme.

An example of this is a Quarterback throwing a touchdown pass, claiming that it was them alone who won the game. But any fowls called on them was the Referee’s working against them. In many ways, to bolster a high self-esteem, people adopt that they can do no wrong, and everyone else is to blame.

In the third Spiderman movie, Eddie Brock blames Peter for losing his job at the Bugle. Let’s not forget to mention that he tried to frame Spiderman for robbery and falsified photos. Despite all of this, had Peter not called him on his forgery, he would have a job, so it is Peter’s fault.


The self-serving bias has been seen in the workplace, interpersonal relationships, and sports. This is derived from motivational process and cognitive processes. (There are more, but I won’t be going into them)

So let us look into some of the factors for said behavior. There are two types of motivations, self-enhancement and self-presentation. Self-enhancement is upholding one’s self-worth, attributing success internally and failures externally. Self-presentation is maintaining survival in their own mind, of who and what they are.

Control. Known as Locus of control. There are two types of Locus of Control, internal and external. Internal is simply the belief that they have personal control of situations and their actions matter. External tend to believe in chance and luck, outside forces that they cannot control. External Locus of control are more likely to have self-serving bias following failure, than internal.

In Disney’s, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Judge Claude Frollo at first blamed Esmeralda for his lust for her claiming it was her fault. Had she not seduced him (light flirting is seducing?), then he wouldn’t lust for her. Then he follows that it is God’s fault for making, as he said, the devil so much stronger than man. He also chased a woman through a city, believing she has stolen property, which leads to her death. He reasons that if she didn’t run from him, that wouldn’t have happened. This is an example of external loctus of control. Outside forces are to blame.


Interpersonal relationship. It is all a factor of closeness to other people. The closer you are to friends and family, the less self-serving you are in accomplishing tasks. Compared to strangers, people tend to be more self-serving. There are exceptions to this, especially with family, but you tend to work together better with people you know that those you don’t. The phrase, The Devil You know, is better than the one you don’t.

Workplace. Workplace is riddled with self-serving bias. Getting a job leads to internal self-esteem, where not getting a job is often external blame. Work place accidents is another example. The victim tends to blame the external factors, where fellow coworkers and employers blame the victim. Management also seems to work on the basis that the fault relies on the person below you. This is an occasion where a group can act as one with a Self-Serving Bias.

In the new Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Mike Peterson tries to get a job at his former employer, and gets ridiculed because he got injured on the job, and that is why they won’t hire him because they don’t want employees who try to collect insurance, even though it is their right.


Classroom presents an interesting self-serving bias. Both the student and teacher have their own. The student will often blame the teacher, and the teacher holds the student accountable. Interesting, it seems both teacher and student are aware of the others’ bias.

Perhaps the Breakfast Club is a good example here. The Principal feels justified in how he treats Bender, putting the blame of his conduct on the student, and the student redirecting it back at the Principle.



These are but a few examples to consider. You can research further if you like, but I consider the others subjective to interpretation, or incomplete in their findings. Overall, there will be many characters who are self-serving, namely antagonists, and it is good to understand how and why they are.

Reality TV has also show cased this behavior with some people, none more so than Kitchen Nightmares. The moment anyone is attacked by Gordon Ramsey, people go on the defensive and either are in denial or blame others for their problems. As much of an asshole Gordon is, he is right.


The episode in Arizona, Amy’s Baking Company is proof of this, that when Gordon started to call them out on their behavior, they continued to put the fault onto everyone else, rather than try to take some level of responsibility. Even to the point of blaming their own customers or “hackers” when it appears evident they were behind a lot of the attacks. This episode clearly demonstrated Self-Serving Bias, as they could never be wrong and everyone else is at fault. This is a rather extreme case, but we saw the fallout for their hubris.

In the followup episode of Season 7, they still don’t see anything they did wrong, because psychologically, they must protect their ego from harm. Most people on Kitchen Nightmares begin to see their own mistakes, which is a truth of humans that it takes a lot of tough love to breakthrough their bias, but other people, there is no reaching them. You can’t help those who don’t want to help themselves.

Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm syndrome, also known as capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon where hostages develop empathy and sympathy toward their captors. Some even to the point of defending and identifying with them. This often comes from a mistaken notion that the lack of abuse is an act of kindness from the captors. The FBI report that roughly 8% of victims in kidnapping develop Stockholm Syndrome.

Stockholm Syndrome was named for the Norrmalmstorg robbery of Kreditbanken in Stockholm Sweden. Robbers barricaded themselves in a bank vault with four hostages from August 23rd to 28 in 1973.  After the events, the victims become emotionally attacked to their captors, and even defended them when they were freed.

I won’t get into the Evolutionary explanations, as I am not fully convinced of it, but I do know that hostage situations is not the only form of Stockholm Syndrome. It can also develop with Abused Children, Battered Women, Prisoners of War, Cult members, Incest Victims, and Controlling Relationships.

One hypothesis is from Freud. Dealing with the trauma of becoming a victim, identifying with the aggressor is a mechanism for the ego to defend itself. Believing the same as the aggressor, they cease to be a threat. It is important to remember that Stockholm Syndrome develops subconsciously, on an involuntary basis. It is a survival instinct that develops during a threatening and controlling environment.

My first exposure to this was in Metal Gear Solid, when Otocon formed a personal relationship with Sniper Wolf. He saw that she cared for wolf dogs, and he saw in her kindness, which turned into love. She didn’t share the feelings back to him, but had sympathy for him since he would feed her dogs. At best it was a friendship, but Otocon felt love towards her.

As was mentioned, Stockholm Syndrome can also relate to abusive relationships. It is almost the same thing, but still distinctly different. A victim in an abusive relationship will often defend the actions of an Abuser. Almost to the point of developing Learned Helplessness. The Abuser will try to control the victim in all aspects of their life.

You’ll note that I am not specific on Gender. While women are more often abused by men, the opposite can be true. I know this because I was abused in a relationship. It wasn’t physical, it was more mental. She told me lies about my friends to get me to stop liking them. I didn’t fall for it, as I always addressed my friends directly, but I defended her actions a lot. Eventually she lost interest in me, which was the best thing that could happen.

An example in Narrative is Harley Quinn. Some are enamored with her character, but if you actually think about it, especially with her relationship to the Joker, she is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. It’s more that she’s in an abusive relationship, and not so much that she’s a hostage, but despite any abuse she receives, she still loves Joker, even when he tries to kill her.


Honestly, when I played Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, I felt sorry for the character. I didn’t find her funny, or cute, or something to laugh at, I pitied her. Yeah…she’s psychotic, but she is need of desperate help. She also appears to suffer from a form of Hybristophilia, which is basically the arousal of her partner being the worst person possible. Word origins similar to Hubris.


There is no exact science to Stockholm Syndrome, but there are some common signs in all Stockholm Syndrome dynamics:

  • Positive feelings of the victim to the abuser
  • Negative feelings of the victim to family and friends
  • Refusal of help from authorities
  • Justifying the reasons and behavior of the abuser
  • Acts of non-violence by the abuser seen as acts of kindness
  • Supportive of the abuser
  • Learned Helplessness of the victim

The reverse can be true, where the captors develop affection for the victim. This is called the Lima Syndrome. This was named after an abduction at the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru in 1996. The captors felt sympathy for the hostages and released most of them, including high value targets.

An example of this, which is also an example of Stockholm Syndrome, is the Princess Bride. About time I use a reference from that movie. When Westley tells his story of meeting with the Dread Pirate Cummerbund (I know it’s Roberts, I just love saying that), the pirate spared Westley. While Cummerbund threaten to kill him every night, he eventually grew to like Westley, and Westley to Cummerbund, to the point of revealing his secret. From Westley to Cummerbund was Stockholm Syndrome, and Cummerbund to Westley was Lima Syndrome.


Remember that a character doesn’t decide to favor the captors, it is something beneath the surface that happens psychologically. It is a very serious thing, and when you write about it, realize that for it to happen has to be a very bad situation that a person truly believes their lives are in danger. And above all else, they sympathize with their attackers, despite any and all logic to the contrary.

Self-Serving Bias & Stockholm Syndrome

Both deal with the concept of self-preservation, modifying their personality and attitude to accommodate a given situation. The Ego is a sensitive part of our personality. Having an Ego is often seen as being a bad thing, but it is something all humans have. Too much of it is a bad thing. However, when it comes under attack, humans will either get defensive about it and try to protect themselves, or adapt to the environment and adjust it to the situation.

Often times people are at the mercy of their own minds, of their own personality. Psychosis can override Free Will. When I use the term psychosis, I mean it as a loss of reality, and nothing more. I spoke of how the mind will try to defend itself in Learned Helplessness, and this shows more ways in which the mind does this.

Now certainly, past events can trigger these types of defenses. Upbringing being the most common. However, someone doesn’t need to suffer abuse in their lives to succumb to either topic. A perfectly stable person can be emotionally connected to her captors or to have a high opinion of themselves and blame others.

Remember, especially with Self-Serving Bias, that to some degree, all humans have this. Empathy plays a key role for many to control this from becoming a problem, and those who do have a problem often lack empathy. Don’t forget that fear is a very powerful motivator and it can cause us to do many things we wouldn’t we’d ever see ourselves doing.

Help Keep This Site Running

This site is a great achievement for me, but due to being unable to work, I may not be able to keep this site running. With your help, I might be able to.

I need $125 by October 30th, 2017. Anything you can give will help.

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