He lied.

You changed your mind.

I reconsidered my decision.

What is the name for this type of cognitive bias where you are easier on yourself when you describe your behavior, but harder on the second person and hardest on others? It's similar to the justification of your actions in certain situations e.g., when someone cuts you off in traffic, he's a jerk. But if you cut someone off it's because you are really in a hurry and it's justified.

But what I'm specifically looking for is the name of the phenomenon where the same behavior/quality of the first, second and third person are described by decreasing levels of charitability.

  • $\begingroup$ Hypocrisy? Not certain this is on topic here. $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ Could you please improve the question title for posterity? $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ @StevenJeuris What question title would you recommend? $\endgroup$
    – tinkerr
    Commented Dec 15, 2021 at 3:51

1 Answer 1


Russell Conjugation (or emotive conjugation).

The tendency of people to regard their own characteristics more charitably than those of others, and to rank others according (at least in part) to proximity to earshot:

I am firm, you are obstinate, he is a pig-headed fool.

I am righteously indignant, you are annoyed, he is making a fuss over nothing.

I have reconsidered the matter, you have changed your mind, he has gone back on his word.

Eric Weinstein expands:

Russell Conjugation (or “emotive conjugation”) is a presently obscure construction from linguistics, psychology and rhetoric which demonstrates how our rational minds are shielded from understanding the junior role factual information generally plays relative to empathy in our formation of opinions.

I frequently suggest it as perhaps the most important idea with which almost no one seems to be familiar, as it showed me just how easily my opinions could be manipulated without any need to falsify facts.

Historically, the idea is not new and seems to have been first defined by several examples given by Bertrand Russell in 1948 on the BBC without much follow up work, until it was later rediscovered in the internet age and developed into a near data-driven science by pollster Frank Luntz beginning in the early 1990s.

Luntz, a US political and communications consultant:

Luntz frequently tests word and phrase choices using focus groups and interviews. His stated purpose in this is the goal of causing audiences to react based on emotion. "80 percent of our life is emotion, and only 20 percent is intellect. I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think. ... If I respond to you quietly, the viewer at home is going to have a different reaction than if I respond to you with emotion and with passion and I wave my arms around. Somebody like this is an intellectual; somebody like this is a freak."


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