Game of Thrones: Why is this Right for You and Wrong for me?: The Actor/Observer bias and...

Document created by Eric Kim on Oct 21, 2015Last modified by Elizabeth Uva on Oct 21, 2015
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Brief Background for Game of Thrones (spoiler alert!):

In season 1 of Game of Thrones, Ned Stark, attempted to install a true heir to the throne instead of Joffrey Lannister (I’ll refer to him as a Lannister for simplicity instead of the Joffrey Baratheon). Ned Stark is killed by the Lannisters for this.  Ned’s daughter, Arya flees the city disguised as a boy and the Stark family wages war on House Lannister. During Arya’s escapes, her caravan is attacked by forces loyal to Tywinn Lannister and a cage with several condemned men catches fire. She gives them a hand axe so they can free themselves. One of these convicts is Jaqen H’gar, whom she will meet later. With Arya’s true identity still a secret, she is captured and becomes the wine steward for Tywinn Lannister, who is Joffrey’s Lannister’s grandfather.


In this clip from season 2, there is a conversation with Arya Stark talking to Jaqen H’ghar, the man she rescued. Both are now working for her enemy, the Lannisters--Arya as a wine bearer, and Jaqen H’ghar as a soldier.


Psychological Concept:

Arya Stark and Jaqen H’ghar both work for the Lannisters. Arya tells that Jaqen she should have let him die instead of allowing him to work for the Lannisters, and thus against her family. Jaqen H’ghar responds with “and you fetch water for one of them now”. “Why is this right for you, but wrong for me?” He is suggesting the actor/observer bias where we provide different explanations for the same behavior depending on if you are the actor or you observe someone else doing it. Arya responds by saying that she didn’t have a choice. By saying that you had no choice, reduces hercognitive dissonance of working for the Lannisters who is at war with her family.


A recurring theme in my courses: “Find the psychology concept. It is rarely explicit.”
One recurring theme that I emphasize in my courses is that in the real world, psychology shows up all the time.  It can be difficult for students to spot because there are no cues such as "Psychology concept" or "social cognition" to prime a student.  If you understand the psychological principle, you can spot them.


A recurring theme in my courses: “Why is recognizing this psychological principle important?”

I ask students why learning about social cognition important? Why does it matter? I think it is important for the following reasons

  • A lot of these psychological processes we use—especially to explain the world around us are unconscious and automatic. Changing these explanations requires conscious effort and the knowledge of what to look for (see video clip: This is Water by David Foster Wallace)
  • If we commit the actor/observer bias, we are using different standards for behavior for ourselves and others, and may appear to be unfair to others.


A recurring theme in my courses: “There are multiple psychological processes present”

Quite often, students assume that there is only one answer, one process, one perspective to explain things. Once I draw actor/observer bias out, I will see if someone can spot cognitive dissonance.


Option: Run Before class:

With long video clips, I sometimes start the video clip before class to draw students into the class.


Video Length: This video clip is more than 10 minutes long. However, the actor/observer bias starts at about 2:49 and goes to 3:11 for this clip. You may want to start it earlier.


Link: (

You can find this video or a similar video from a variety of places with a Jaqen H’ghar search.