Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)

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Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they screw up? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell? Renowned social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson take a compelling look into how the brain is wired for self-justification. When we make mistakes, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right--a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong. Backed by years of research and delivered in lively, energetic prose, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers a fascinating explanation of self-deception--how it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it.

Customer Reviews:

  • Excellent
    I wrote out a long explanation of why this was such an impressive book - but then lost it through computer error (it was my computer's fault, not me!).

    Enough said: this book is excellent. Entertaining, informative and explanatory. Well worth it....more info
  • How humans justify bad decisions and foolish beliefs: The power of cognitive dissonance
    This is a well written, snappy book that addresses an important issue, best described by the book's title and subtitle: "Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts."

    The two authors, both well reputed psychologists, use the theory of cognitive dissonance as their starting point. Leon Festinger was one of the major theorists of this approach. The authors of this book simply define the perspective thus (page 13): "Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent, such as 'Smoking is a dumb thing to do because it could kill me' and 'I smoke two packs a day.'" How does one deal with this? By adopting one of the positions and then downgrading or rejecting the other. The end result is self-justification, self-deception, seeking out evidence to support the choice that we have made while rejecting evidence that does not fit with our choice.

    The brain itself shows evidence of the operation of cognitive dissonance. The example on page 19 of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and processing information about presidential candidates is telling. The end result is "blind spots," in which people (page 42) "fail to notice vital events and information that might make them question their behavior or their convictions." As such, the authors note that cognitive dissonance makes mincemeat of such theoretical views as rational actor theory and psychoanalytic theory. One result of cognitive dissonance is what is called "confirmation bias," the attending to evidence that supports our views and the rejection/suppression of evidence that does not support our views.

    Many examples are advanced to illustrate the case that the authors make. Issues include: moral lapses (e.g., Watergate participants), "made up" memories (raising serious questions about the whole idea of repressed memories), criminal justice system decisions on guilt or innocence, and so on. Much is at stake with cognitive dissonance as it operates.

    In the closing chapter, the authors try to indicate how understanding cognitive dissonance might help us to limit the damage that may occur as a result of its operation. Convincing? I'm not so sure, but this discussion does get one thinking about how we might address the harmful side effects of cognitive dissonance.

    A readable book that raises important issues. I think that more use of neuroscientific research could have strengthened this book that much more. Also, the work by cognitive psychologists like Kahneman and Tversky could have spoken to key points as well. This book might also profitably be read in tandem with another recent book on a similar subject, Cordelia Fine, "A Mind of Its Own." In addition, Linden's "accidental Mind" provides a perspective on related issues from a neuroscience viewpoint.
    ...more info
  • A new way of introspection
    The authors, in a interesting and entertaining way, draw attention to our "blind-spots" and self justifications. It is easy to be outraged at the hypocracy all around us--but their cogent arguments about our own bad decisions is really an eye opener. It has made me view all the current news in a deeper and more meaningful way and it has really drawn my attention to my own prejudices and self justification. A wonderful book, based on scientific studies, arguing that we need to be just as aware of our mental blind-spots as we are of our visual blind-spots when driving. I highly recommend it....more info
  • One Woman's Voice
    A fascinating look at the machinations our minds take to keep from giving us the bad news. It is surprising, in fact, that "really bad news" even exists -- at least as far as our own actions are concerned. I thought a small portion of the book (just short of the middle) was redundant, but luckily the authors moved on and provided more unique food for thought. Although the information was scientific and scholarly, it was easily accessible and interesting. It's a fun book to talk about, too. ...more info
  • Awesome Book
    I was truly enjoying it and so was someone else at work because the darn thing went missing! I'm ordering another....more info
  • Almost a Great Read
    This book covers some compelling subject matter. The concept of cognitive dissonance is very interesting and very relevant.

    However, the authors do themselves and their book a disservice by over-using politcally charged anecdotes to demonstrate instances of cognitive dissonance. In doing so, they tend to annoy or even alienate the reader. Another byproduct of this mistake is that they really find themselves "reaching" when using some stories that don't really make the point they are trying to make.

    Although I came away from the book agreeing with the basic premise, it was somewhat difficult for me to embrace the concepts completely knowing that the authors were unable to set aside their ideological biases (given the subject matter, this is humorously ironic).

    Politics aside, the core material is compelling. Reading this book is like listening to an engaging speaker who has really annoying idiosynchrasies that you have to mentally block out in order to enjoy the contents of the speech....more info
  • Help Yourself, Help us all .
    I got what I was after when I ordered this book. Enhanced with stellar examples ranging in severity and repercussion, from thousands dead to marriages failed, this is a psychology book that Shows more than Telling, letting you do the math.. but also showing how it adds up. Or with the dissonance theory, which it does adequately explain, it shows how sometimes, our cognitive dissonance makes it so that our decisions Don't add up, and why its so hard for us to be fair when faced with dissonance. This book helps us realize how humans, although hard wired to Skew the facts in our perceived favor.. Are able to get around the tragedies of dissonant thinking.
    It's a psychology book, with a touch of self help because.. as it so fairly points out, We are all guilty of mistakes, Yet, its those of us who can admit to them that are the one who tend to recover from them, learn from them, and even be more valued and trusted by society-- more often.
    Less likely to make the same mistake again.
    One of the most interesting ideas it posed through numerous example, was that people Acclimate themselves step by step to immoral behavior, escalating in severity. Thankfully, no ones bad, no ones good, We are all capable of Vast misgivings. Our first mistake being inherent human fallibility, this book examines how we can help understand our cognitive flaws, and own up before things escalate. It also gives us some courage to admit, even if things Have gone too far. ...more info
  • This book could have been written in 15 pages
    This book is about cognitive dissonance. The authors spend one chapter (the first) and 29 pages describing what it and what impact on our behavior are, and then waste the rest of the book with a series of "pop culture" examples of the principle of cognitive dissonance at work. A variety of application areas are addressed--politics, science, love, law, medicine, etc--but nothing is done to flesh out the topic in greater detail nor to prescribe how we can overcome the liabilities that cognitive dissonance can create. My cognitive dissonance is that I wasted $20 on this book and a few hours reading it, but writing this review makes me feel better if I save someone else the trouble....more info
  • Proof That Victory Has Many Fathers but Defeat is an Orphan
    Authors Travis and Aronson present a wonderful explanation of how we "justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions and hurtful acts" in this fascinating and easy-to-read book that will make you smile or shake your head as you recognize the mental gymnastics on the balance beam of your brain and the brains of others.

    They show us how our mind overcomes cognitive dissonance through self-justification where we create blind spots to our pride and prejudice, keep editing our memories until it provides a recall we are comfortable with, how "good" people lose their ethical compasses, how we justify our biases and prejudices, how the "us mentality" fulfills the paramount need for belonging and a sense of superiority, which allows us to do bad things to good people, our spouses, our co-workers, and even strangers who pose no threat or insult.

    They explain this using a pyramid where every one of us starts at its apex. One story, act or event leads us down one side of the pyramid that will define our beliefs, character and philosophy while the same experience or a different one will lead someone else down another side of the pyramid. To avoid dissonance, the feelings of being wrong, stupid or weak, we will seek confirmation of our new belief so that we tell ourselves we have not gone down the wrong side, until we find ourselves at the base, unwilling to acknowledge even the most irrefutable evidence that might contradict that belief.

    When we are confronted with such evidence, it is called dissonance. It can be so threatening that we find a number of ways of projecting or rationalizing our previous action so we don't have to face the embarrassing possibility of having been wrong. When prosecutors feel they have imprisoned the right man even after DNA proves he didn't commit the crime, they have become convinced in their belief, which is now rooted in the base of the pyramid. They will experience dissonance even when it turns out that the victims of the eight people they successfully prosecuted for murder turn out to be very much alive after all. Self-justification in the form of a rationalization will save the ego from the enormous guilt of having put the wrong man in prison.

    Travis and Aronson also take aim at Freudian psychoanalytic theory, especially repression and memory therapy through the tragic experience of Holly Romana and the daycare centers of the 1980's, stories that were chilling in the lives they destroyed because of the overconfidence of therapists, police and district attorneys where, despite their experience, their ability to pick out the molester, abuser, or criminal was no better than chance. Their experience gave them confidence but little insight. They make even a stronger case against the theory with Holocaust survivors who suffered unspeakable, repressible misery, yet were able to remember almost every detail of their depositions forty years earlier when they were liberated. Those who clung to repression theory found validation if a survivor couldn't remember every single detail.

    What drew my attention to this book was an intuition that no power of intellect, knowledge, or persuasion would influence people whose political opinions differed from mine in a substantial number of Amazon reviews and comments under dozens of titles. I was fascinated with the contradictory message of being told to read extremist authors (who believed that criticism of national policy was an act of treason), with the admonishment that it should be read by, or was only for "those with an open mind." Equally odd was the saying "the truth really hurts" from people who were reading propagandists. As the authors explained, people see themselves as open-minded and fair with reasonable opinions. Therefore, since they are reasonable, fair and just, and find the book "factual," those who don't share their opinion must be unreasonable, biased, and unable to face the truth, at least as they see it. In other words, it's the other guy who lacks an "open mind."

    The more I read, the more I found applications from the book in other comments and reviews. One commentator could not understand how I admired the book "The Greatest Generation," by Tom Brokaw, because of my liberal leanings. According to her, I was one of the people "on [my] side of the fence," that "actually despise every aspect of American life." (It was the authors' example of the "us mentality" that provides the person with the sense of belonging). Membership in a particular group is a must, as is the perception to view our group as being more intelligent, open-minded, or moral than those in a different group. This allows us to see traits in the other group that are undesirable, traits that members are unable to see in their own group, unless it is with justification. The stereotype tends to serve as a defining line where there is only one possible rational explanation for things--hers. Although she felt my respect and politics were incompatible, I could be explained as an aberration, in her mind. (There was hope for me). Conflict resolved, dissonance spared, and paradigm and belief remain intact.

    The authors demonstrated the power of rationalization and denial that was all so clear here in discussion threads. If people believed there were WMD even after an administration acknowledged that there weren't any after all, they would still believe that they were driven away by trucks to Syria while still not knowing where in Syria they actually were. Some had their belief systems so tied to the previous administration that criticism could only be an expression of irrational hatred or an act of treason. Travis and Aronson's message explained the rationale of not wanting to understand our enemies. It would be much more convenient to believe they hated us for no good reason, and anyone wanting to understand could be simply explained as a terrorist sympathizer. Righteousness without proof of being right, wins.

    In actuality, questioning our beliefs or admitting our mistakes doesn't make us look weak or stupid. It creates the opposite impression. Our society promotes the idea that this is a weakness, and it is instilled in our children early on, turning them into human beings who can never be wrong on their jobs, in their relationships, and about their personal beliefs. The fear of ridicule, failure, and retribution is too strong and difficult for us to face. Few have risen to the occasion such as President Kennedy who has been the last president to admit having made a mistake on a grand scale. Richard Clarke was the only one in the previous administration who flat out stated that he was responsible for the attacks of 9/11, and was the only one to ask for forgiveness. (No one came close). N. Wayne Hale Jr. took full responsibility for the Columbia Shuttle Disaster. He was since promoted to Manager of the Space Shuttle Program. General Eisenhower had a statement ready in case the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 had failed. He changed a key phrase in it from "The troops were withdrawn" to "I withdrew the troops."

    I cannot recommend this book enough, because knowing what we believe depends upon how we think, and how we think about those of us with opposing viewpoints. It adds tremendous insight into the human condition and our need to protect our own egos. The authors provide some hope believing that we have the ability to recognize our self-destructive thought patterns and change for the better. As they so blithely state, the body might want sugar, but we have learned to eat vegetables.

    This book is proof that victory has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan.

    When asked by a reporter what three mistakes he made as president, George W. Bush replied: "[When people ask about mistakes] they're trying to say, `Did you make a mistake going into Iraq?' And the answer is, `Absolutely not,' It was the right decision...Now, you asked what mistakes, I made ...some mistakes in appointing people, but I'm not going to name them. I don't want to hurt their feelings on national television." Page 235.

    Just as the authors said, mistakes were made--but not by me.

    Also Recommended:
    Jackson, Brooks & Jamieson, Kathleen, H., "un-Spun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation," Random House, 2007.
    ...more info
  • dissonance
    This is a book about dissonance and the attempts the mind makes to resolve it. The basic mechanism is: I'm a good person, I did something that a good person wouldn't do, therefore, my perspective on my action changes to something a good person would do.

    I think there's a good, lengthy magazine article wanting to come out of this book. There are examples but they feel cut short, and there are interesting asides that aren't explored (example: they say we're more influenced by small gifts than large ones and has a footnote with a reference to a note in a study). It's hard to use as a reference too. For example, the pages do not show the chapter, which makes it quite difficult to look up footnotes...or find my place....more info
  • At first slowly, then quickly
    Or so say Tavis and Aronson on how we lose our ethical grip---we make a small slip, say to ourselves it is not that bad, and our minds rationalize the next slip. From lunch with a lobbyist to a golf outing in Europe is not---when the mind puts its mind to it---that big a leap. Their discussion of confirmation bias, one of the worst breeders of bad decisions is outstanding and undertandable. And the chapter on how the police get the innocent to confess is chilling. There are all sorts of useful tips.Want to co-op an enemy? Get her to do a favor for you; her mind will say, "I do not do favors for jerks,and because I do not, he must not be that big a jerk." The mind can not hold two thoughts at once, so it bridges the dissonance. At 236 pages, the book is long enough to be worthwhile, but short enough to read on a vacation. Anyone interested in persuasion and how our minds work will find the read a useful one. ...more info
  • An important pick
    Social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson examine how the brain is wired for self-justification and offer many important psychological insights for responsible behavior patterns in Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. It goes beyond most self-help titles to address the physiological makeup and patterns behind denial, false memories, and more, and pairs research with case history examples and insights on how self-justification develops and damages relationships and lives. An important pick not just for psychology holdings, but for any general-interest collection.

    Diane C. Donovan
    California Bookwatch...more info
  • Scary but essential reading
    Why do people refuse to admit mistakes - so deeply that they transform their own brains? They're not kidding themselves: they really believe what they have to believe to justify their original thought.

    There are some pretty scary examples in this book. Psychologists who refuse to admit they'd bought into the false memory theories, causing enormous pain. Politicians. Authors. Doctors. Therapists. Alien abduction victims.

    Most terrifying: The justice system operates this way. Once someone is accused of a crime - even under the most bizarre circumstances - the police believe he's guilty of something. Even when the DNA shows someone is innocent, or new evidence reveals the true perpetrator, they hesitate to let the accused person go free.

    This book provides an enjoyable, accurate guide through contemporary social psychology. So many "obvious" myths are debunked as we learn the way memory really works and why revenge doesn't end long-term conflict.

    Readers should pay special attention to the authors' discussion of the role of science in psychology, as compared to psychiatry, which is a branch of medicine. I must admit I was shocked to realize how few psychiatrists understand the concept of control groups and disconfirmation. Psychoanalysis in particular is not scientific. The authors stop short of comparing it to astrology or new age.

    This book should be required reading for everyone, especially anyone who's in a position to make policy or influence the lives of others. But after reading Mistakes were Made, I suspect it won't do any good. Once we hold a position, say the authors, it's almost impossible to make a change....more info
  • OK
    More psychology that I was looking for in a book with this title but interesting....more info
  • Fantastic Book! Can't put it down.
    I just picked this up in Newark airport on my way back from Europe. My boyfriend had been terrible to me and the trip was the worst I ever had. So this book seemed apropo. I love it! It brings in a lot of MBA oriented theory from my Power and Politics classes as well as Advertising and Marketing. It is brilliant and I wish I had read it years ago!...more info
  • If you have already bought and read the book, you would understand why I am compelled to give it 5 stars; if not, read on..
    This interesting book follows in the line of Cordelia Fine's "A Mind of it's Own: How your Brain Distorts and Deceives", and Daniel Gilbert's "Stumbling on Happiness". It is an example of the utility of occasions when academic authors who usually write for a closed circle of fellow academics spin a product out for the general public - it is a means for the rest of us to learn a little bit of useful knowledge with only the few hours of investment to read an entertaining book.

    In the modern society where `success' seems to be not only a virtue, but the means and the ends by itself of the good life, it is perhaps cathartic to think a little bit about failure and mistakes. I happened to acquire this book by chance - my wife happened to read a blurb about the book in the new revamped Scientific American, which included a quotation from the famous Israeli leader (and currently President of Israel) - "When a friend makes a mistake, the friend remains a friend, and the mistake remains a mistake." She liked this line so much, that she wanted to get the book, and the wry title certainly helped. The book strikes a good balance between things that one finds in one's own personal life, and issues of the larger common interest, such as the possible faults of the justice system and the complexity of international relations. Authors such as Cordelia Fine, Daniel Gilbert and V.S. Ramachandran ( Phantoms in the Brain) have written informatively about he many pitfalls of perception and memory and cognition in general. "Mistakes were made" peeks in at one the outcomes of the working of our mind - the self-justifying behaviour that arises from a cognitive bias towards what we already believe to be true. The book alerts the reader to the presence of a blind spot in the working of our mind. Reading this book may help you be aware of the blind spot, much as you learn about the blind spot when you first learn to drive. Readers acquainted with the literature on chaos and complexity would see this book to be another example of the overwhelming importance of feedback in our lives - it is replete with examples of events that might have taken a different turn due to some missed turn in the feedback loop - and the effects are non-linear or completely disproportionate to a small initial difference.

    While some of the examples mentioned in the book are funny and others seem quite reasonable, the authors could have done well to provide more attention to the possibility that there may be reasons other than denial and confirmation bias that prevent people from acknowledging their mistakes. A lot of human behavior is strategic, and is driven by incentives - people estimate the probable reactions of others and act accordingly. There are also norms and expectations about those norms that drive people's behavior. Thus a leader might refuse to publicly acknowledge a mistake because he might need to maintain a certain aura of infallibility to remain effective as a leader - which might be beneficial for the followers he leads. Or a corporate executive may have made a wrong business decision which she does not want to admit because she may want to avoid `losing face' in a competitive field. These kind of situations lead one to think about ethics and character, and quickly on towards philosophy - given the uncertainty about the future, we are bound to make errors in our guesses about the future, but these mistakes are different from ones we might make because we might have been careless with our duties and responsibilities. Or maybe this is just another foolish belief that I carry around in my head.
    ...more info
  • Interesting arguments and well-written
    I found the arguments in this book compelling; it is also written well. Once I started on this one I put all my other books and magazines down....more info
  • The Perversity of Self-justification
    When the question of our human nature is raised, depending on who you ask, the answers can range from descriptions of ourselves as intrinsically peace loving and altruistic to innately disposed to selfishness and violence. Some see us progressing toward higher levels of consciousness and empathy, and others as inexorably headed toward self-destruction. Whatever our innate proclivities, they are complicated by our need--barely within our awareness--to self-justify our actions. Tavris and Aronson in "Mistakes Were Made (But not by Me): Why we Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts" show the extent to which self-justification pervades our beliefs and attitudes, and misdirects us in our personal lives, and in the broader domain of social, legal and political affairs. While the cognitive process of self-justification that is at work in reducing cognitive dissonance is well known to psychologists, those in the field of mental health are no more immune than others to its subversive influence in making a mockery of truth. Tavris and Aronson, building on the solid foundation of cognitive dissonance research in social psychology, show how the process of self-justification, while covertly operating in the service of bolstering one's self-esteem and saving face, has led to serious errors of reasoning and judgment. Tavris and Aronson give numerous examples of how this covert process perpetuates marital discord, how it has destroyed families who were victims of overzealous mental health professionals, how it has kept nations at loggerheads, unable to reconcile their differences, and how it has contributed to egregious injustices in law enforcement, resulting in the imprisonment of innocent persons.

    At some time or other we are all inclined to deceive ourselves. Those occasions when we feel the greatest need to justify ourselves are probably the times when we should most carefully examine our motives. Tavris and Aronson's book aims to leave the reader more attuned to the process of self-justification that underlies many of our beliefs and actions, and the harm that can result. The irony, of course, is that the mental machinery of self-justification will be hard at work protecting the sincere reader from looking too closely at himself, while righteously condemning the exposed folly of others. Even so, the world would be a better place if we all took the message in this book to heart.
    ...more info
  • A Cure for Blindness
    Have you ever had an argument with someone, but you cannot understand how she believes the words coming out of her mouth, or better yet, why she doesn't understand the ones coming out of yours?

    This book explains why we cannot see things for what they really are, how people end up making terrible decisions and sticking with them for far too long, and what to do about it.

    It may be the most important book I've ever read, next to Stumbling on Happiness, the author of which, Daniel Gilbert, strongly reccomends this book.

    Throughout, you will make a lot of realizations about yourself as well as your friends, families and coworkers as you begin to see the reality of situations, not what your brain tells you is so. ...more info
  • You'll Never Look at Your Behavior the Same Way Again
    Elliot Aronson was chosen by his peers as one of the 100 most influential psychologists of the twentieth century for good reason. His pioneering work in the field of cognitive dissonance theory revolutionized our understanding of how people unconsciously smother their failings under a blanket of self-justification. Now he's teamed with Carol Tavris in another brilliant work exposing the power of the mind to rationalize our mistakes.

    Using interesting, real-life examples from a variety of areas (law, science, history, even domestic relations), Aronson and Tavris explore how "hypocrisy theory" allows us to engage in stupid, immoral and wrong conduct, yet remain convinced that we are smart, moral and right.

    Mistakes Were Made is fascinating, insightful, and eye-opening. The authors' ability to explain complicated theories of social psychology so entertainingly and interestingly sets this book apart from other academically oriented tomes.

    Product warning: Read this book and you'll never be able to look at your behavior the same way again....more info
  • Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)
    Sometimes, I think that the world is full of hypocrites. The news is full of politicians who preach family values and then are caught in an affair. Everyday we see religious advocates who call for peace and in the same breath state that their God is the only true God. Then, there's the business world where lying and cheating seem to be part of the game.

    Sometimes, I wonder how these people live with themselves.

    Mistake Were Made (but not by me) addresses that exact question. It would seem that the human mind is designed to selectively remember and process information. Thus, the politician, religious leader, business person, or even ourselves often don't realize that we are being hypocritical. Moreover, as our actions and logic become further and further separated, we tend to hold tighter onto our original notions. Instead of admitting that we were wrong, we justify our actions even more strongly.

    Mistake Were Made (but not by me) was a huge eye opener. People don't justify stupid decisions because they are bad people. On the contrary, no one wants to admit they are a fool. Look within, what beliefs do you fight the most adamantly about? ...more info
  • Great Read, Very Enjoyable, Very Insightful
    I'll confess, I've had moments in my life where I thought that the woman I had fallen hopelessly in love with was part of a foretold prophecy and the fact she had rejected me was sure evidence that she was a recovering sex addict having intercourse with any third rate bass player who would cross her path on a Tuesday night at the Whiskey, and that syphilis was sure to follow. To say I was raised to have strong opinions is a gross understatement.

    However, admitting mistakes for those strong opinions was somehow left out of the guidebook. Is someone slow to get the point? They're obviously a moron!! Did someone forget to clean up dog pee? There are sure signs of narcissist personality disorder!! My family does not "suffer fools gladly".

    Thankfully, we are not the exception to the rule, as is the case in point of the book "Mistakes were Made (but not by me): why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and other hurtful acts" by Carol Tarvis and Elliot Aronson. This book analyzes the strong currents that occurred from Self Justification and Confirmation bias.

    This is not a self help book! Self help's focus is on construction, this book's purpose is on observation, and more akin to books like Blink, Predictable Irrationality and The Tipping Point. In fact, if you have read Blink, and enjoyed the correlation between divorce and contempt, this book explores that theme from a self justification point of view. Themes such as clinical psychology, the justice system, and international policy; social and marital situations are discussed with these issues in mind. The book can be found in the general psychology section of the bookstore and I think that is quite appropriate.

    I think one of the first things this book has showed me is that we as Americans are horrified of making mistakes. The main difference between the educational systems that surpass the U.S is that their process views mistakes as a natural part of expression, while the American grading system views mistakes as something unpleasant and to be avoided. This can lead to adults who mistake strong feelings for intelligence. I can say I happened to be one of those people.

    The final chapter gently strews some ideas about what to do with self justification. Its main focus is trying to get people to separate the relationship with the person from the mistake made. To identify their personal feelings and isolate them from the problem at hand. To take out the "yes, but" out of the explanation of a mistake.

    In the spirit of this book, I will gladly admit some mistakes I have made. I blogged and left comments that hurt other people's feelings. Whether I was wrong or right doesn't excuse the fact that I hurt somebody. The easier response of saying "I don't care" was taken and that too is regretful. From those actions there where a couple of relationships which had the opportunity to be deepened and that they were missed is regrettable.

    TAA DAA!!!

    See! Easy Piezy! If you are looking for a good nonfiction read, and willing to look at yourself with a sense of humor if you identify with any of the examples, check it out~!

    C'mon everybody! Let's sing the song to reading rainbow!!!

    I CAN GO ANYWHERE~!!!......
    ...more info
  • pwood
    one of the best books i've ever read. will be of interest to anyone in any occupation....more info
  • TRULY Great
    I must admit, I was almost swayed by the reviewer who called this book "almost great" but who was so offended by the use of Bush as an example of the dangers of unchecked self-justification. Like Mr. Almost Great, I don't like books with a heavy political tilt much either. But becasue I was intrigued by the accolades from some of my favorite authors on the dustjacket, I scanned Almost Great's many reviews on Amazon (including 5 stars for Ann Coulter's Liberal-hating books ---Oy Vey!). That decided it for me; I bought the book and read it in an evening.

    I LOVE LOVE LOVED Mistakes Were Made! It is TRULY Great.

    Reading it, you will learn about your own life, about psychology research, and yes, about politics, but it is not a political book in my opinion. It's a psychological detective story linking up all sorts of puzzling, hilarious, and downright tragic human behavior with a simple, elegant theory. Moreover it is written with humor, clarity, wisdom, and is based on 50 years of research, much of it the work of Aronson, who is a giant in the field of psychology. And despite what some have said, I found it exceedingly fair and balanced--it points out the errors and virtues of both republicans and democrats--unlike books by, say, Ann Coulter, which are anything but fair, much less well-researched.

    For example, it explains with crystal clarity why both Bush and LBJ wouldn't budge from a stay-the-course mentality when in both cases it is/was clear to most outsiders that staying the course is/was insane. And it relates these monumental insanities to the kind of decisions and screw-ups and intrangigences we entangle ourselves into every day.

    I'm a huge fan of Malcom Gladwell's Books and articles and the Daniel Gilbert book "Stumbling on Happiness," for the way they illuminate the way our minds work in an entertaining way. Like those books, it's a joy to read. But unlike those books, which describe the dynamics, and then say "isn't that interesting," Mistakes Were Made gives you insight and concrete steps to deal with the hobgoblins in our own minds and those of the rationalizing animals--which is everybody--with whom we interact everyday. The section on marriage may be the best treatment of how to get out of annoying spirals of defensive stupidity with one's spouse that I have ever read. And it's not written in an annoying self-help bookish way.

    So, If you are like the "Almost Great' reviewer, and get upset hearing about the errors made by individuals from your favored political party, then you definitely NEED this book, and you need you take its lessons to heart, which apparently Mr. "Almost Great" did not. And even if you don't, at least you'll understand why it's so damn hard to. In other words, it will open your eyes to the psychological dynamics underlying partisanship--including being offended by books or ideas that don't confirm your strongly held political leanings.

    I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. It deserves to be a best-seller, read by lots of people and reread over and over and over. If it were, I think the world would be a better place....more info
  • I wanted to stand up and applaud this book
    If there was ever a book that cuts to the heart of some of the major issues that confront our world this is it. It speaks to the individual & the marital couple, it speaks to the psychotherapy community, the judicial system, the healthcare system & goes on, I dare say, to speak to world leaders about a path, albeit a difficult one, to peace. To add to the credibility of this book, there was hardly a statement made that was not research backed. Yes, there was definitely a political point of view that will be offensive to some, but what could be a greater example of not being able to admit you were wrong than our own President in regards to the Iraq war? I think the point was that this self justifying attitude that seems to be pervasive in our society has enormous consequences. If you don't get that from this book or if you don't see yourself in the pages of this book... well, you weren't paying attention. ...more info
  • Beware of the Kindle edition
    This fine book has extensive and substantive footnotes, but the lousy Kindle software doesn't have live links to the footnotes, which makes it MUCH more difficult to move back and forth between the text and the footnotes. The only hope is to add a bookmark to the page you are on, and then move to the footnote section, which starts at location 3638 -- leave a bookmark at the last footnote you looked at, and then when you want to look at the next footnote, you can go back to that bookmark. Then, every now and then, delete the previous bookmarks for the earlier pages/footnotes. ...more info
  • Wonderful book
    I was very happy with 75% of the book, there were sections that didn't do much for me but I am sure that it will for others. I have been able to have discussions about irrational thoughts with my clients and those conversations have led to more open and productive meetings. This has allowed me the tools to understand people on a much higher level... more importantly myself. I now have insight into where my feelings come from and that has allowed me to evaluate the healthy and unhealthy ones. Must read....more info
  • Amazing book!
    This book manages to be entertaining, informative, and utterly terrifying at the same time! Amazing collection of examples of how we justify our actions from all sides of human life -- politics, law enforcement, medical practice, science, relationships.

    PS: According to the book you should not listen to people who already bought the book when deciding if you should buy it. People who already made the decision to get the book will be biased to give a positive recommendation. ;-)...more info
  • Generally succeeds, but has its shortcomings
    This book does fairly well in portraying how we go about attempting to make reality consonant with our internal self, and the consequences thereof. For instance, clinicians who do not use thorough scientific rigor to evaluate their claims (such as repressed memory) can end up seeking out anecdotal evidence that confirms their suspicions, and despite the fact that "x" may be untrue, will convince their clients that yes, "x" did indeed happen to them, and this is why they are the way they are. The client, apt to accept such a statement as it is consonant with the fact that it exculpates them, will then go on believing x is true (without sufficient evidence to do so), possibly destroying people's lives in the process.

    I focused on this as an example because the book focuses on sexual abuse and repressed memories as essentially hocus pocus, and this is where the book succeeds but also fails in some regards. For one, sexual abuse is associated with amnesia and dissociative symptoms; the hippocampus, when flooded with cortisol (as in stressful situations), interferes with the ability to form declarative memory.

    This is scientific evidence that helps make the point that, while the clinicians in the examples given in the book jumped to the conclusion of sexual abuse--due to operating on the non-empirical assumption that their patient had repressed memories--were indeed wrong to do so, the inclination to suspect sexual abuse or trauma when someone has lost a large portion of memories of their childhood is not necessarily a poor hypothesis (just an uncorroborated one).

    In general, while I enjoyed the book and found it applicable to my life on many levels, I felt as though the political examples of cognitive dissonance may have been imbalanced against Republicans (I am a Democrat); the statement that an individual with a completely false autobiography was "healthy" was a bit puzzling, given that meningiomas, porphyria, and other medical conditions can cause false memories (and the person discussed had been abandoned early in his life by his mother; how exactly can one presume healthiness here?); and that the book gave off the sweeping impression that if you've been sexually abused, you'll only experience heightened explicit memories.

    So, I recommend buying the book if you don't mind these objections, as it can help you gain insight as to how we have a confirmation bias and need to distort reality to our benefit....more info
  • You don't need to read it ALL
    At first, I sensed the volume was going to be redundant, overly repetitive--and to some extent that is true. The authors make their "cognitive dissonance" (discomfort which leads to self-justification, even unconsciously) point in Chapter One, and proceed to bore us with elaborations on the same theme. Everything is very logically presented and well written, but it is simply example after example of their main Chapter One thesis: Dissonance fosters self-justification.

    I say start with Chapter One (which tells the what of dissonance) and skip to Chapter 8 (which explains the emotional whys and how to stop it via self reflection). Then read a chapter or two in-between if you are further interested. For me, Chapter Six, is the only chapter that held my complete attention--I was glued to it. The subtitle is "Love's Assassin: Self-Justification in Marriage." This is relevant to me because I vividly remember going through a separation with an ex-girlfriend and this certainly made me reflect on both of our behaviors. You may find a different chapter of significance.

    The message of the book is that people (mates, politicians, business executives, lawyers and the rest of us) tend to self-justify our wrong behavior--all to reduce dissonance and ambivalence for consonance.

    Maybe this is one of those topics where the writers just can't present their point once, but have to flesh it out in the rest of the book so the average reader can get it more thoroughly. Like good teachers they plant the idea (theory, they admit) in our minds, then reinforce the concept so we'll never forget it--and we don't dare practice ill-behavior emotionally harmful to a relationship, or even ourselves.

    The authors say we all want to move from dissonance (emotional and mental discomfort over what we or others consider bad behavior) to consonance (comfort) in our actions and attitudes. To some extent the book seems rather textbookish, but it can't be expected to read like a novel--not that textbooks should be boring. Dissonance is said to hurt self-esteem because the "mind wants to protect itself from pain...with the balm of self-justification...." (p. 216-7). But dissonance has its positive side, too, they acknowledge, by forcing us to take stock (or not) of our interpersonal behavior. The authors track self-justification through the topics of "family, memory, therapy, law, prejudice, conflict and war" (p. 222), and they tell the ugly and the good.

    Had it not been for Chapter Six, especially, then chapters One and Eight, necessarily, I would have rated the book a three....more info
  • what a terrific book!
    I'm not usually a big fan of 'self-help' books, but I was caught by the title and couldn't resist. What a terrific book! Well written and accessible, the authors do a very good job of making their many points about the mechanisms of self-justification (and why we should all care) without sounding accusatory or offending the reader. I highly recommend this book to pretty much anyone and everyone. ...more info
  • Highly recommended
    Other reviews synopsize this book, and I won't repeat that effort. I will, however, chime in to say that it's remarkably readable and pretty much universally relevant. One anecdote in the book relates that one of the authors, a professional in the study of cognitive dissonance, falls prey to it themselves - thus underlining the point at hand, that we're all susceptible to this error.

    Cogent, clear, and engagingly written, it makes those obtuse errors of others so much easier to understand - and easier to spot in ourselves. ...more info
  • Use this book to change your life...
    This book provides the reader with a better understanding of cognitive dissonance and the impact and effect it can have on your life.

    I hope everyone reads it!!...more info
  • Important for all of us
    I applaud Tavris and Aronson for such a "needed" work, especially for our current times.

    Read the many other excellent reviews for the actual content of the book, as I don't have anything more to add to them except a "thank you" for posting them. My purchase of the book came from these excellent reviews.

    I found it to be less of a pointedly or preachy "political book" than some would say here on this forum.

    I should probably never be so certain about my position on an issue, or my memory of an event after having read this book. These are indeed hard "habits" to break, or in the sense that the tendency seems to be "hard wired" into each of us.

    It seems to me to be a lesson on compromise, listening, dialogue, consideration of another's thoughts, selflessness, and the imperative not to feel like one needs to be "right" about an issue, but instead we might consider that we should only feel the need to be "understood"--but with the contingency that we try to reciprocally "understand."

    Regarding some of the criticisms of the book: Leaving out the current political or religious issues would miss a valuable example and lesson on how we collectively become self-righteous as a political or religious body--one only needs to read today's headlines on the MSNBC site to see the cognitive dissonance: "Waterboarding: 'probably saved lives'"--to which I'd ask: "really?" --or "Israeli tanks enter Gaza" --to which I wonder, "will this back-and-forth never end?" or "Dozens killed as blasts rock Algiers"--my hope for this world is an end for the need to be "right," during this season and always.

    ...more info
  • A MUST-read for everyone
    What we don't know WILL hurt us.
    Well researched. Well written. This book gives a different perspective when evaluating situations and people.
    We're really not as smart as we think we are (or, would want others to believe...)...more info
  • Read At Your Own Risk Of Deconstruction!
    A face paced, witty, entertaining, informative, and dark read from page one.
    Nothing like having every belief, stance, arguement, sacrifice, ethic,
    loyalty, and moral conviction challenged by the time you've made it through
    the introduction! We humans are endlessly interesting creatures, that's for
    sure. A must read for any inquiring mind, politician, pastor, activist,
    judge, police officer, teacher, doctor, suffering soul, do-gooder, bully, or
    social terror. Enjoy....more info
  • Very Worthwhile For Anyone Longing To Cut Through Their Own and Others' BS
    This book takes a gentle look at how we trick ourselves into selectively remembering things to our best advantage, and how we justify our mistakes, so that nothing is ever our fault.

    This book is a nice read for the lay-person. Elusive concepts are explained in easy-to-understand language.

    I have found it refreshing to finally be able to follow people's trains of thought as they attempt to distort events to suit their own best interest. Even better, I have been able to catch myself starting to do the same thing, and being able to stop myself before I say something foolish.

    This book is useful for anyone who is interested in holding others and themselves accountable for their own behavior. The truth can be embarrassing--even mortifying as one reviewer stated--but there is a sweetness and a relief in being able to be honest with yourself....more info
  • Problem Without a Solution
    Well-written discussion of self-justification as a defense to admitting you were wrong or made a mistake. Having described the problem it offers no solutions.

    The book also ignores external contributions to creating a toxic social environment for which you should read Phil Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect and Machiavelli's The Prince....more info
  • This is a great book, but......
    I am happy to see this book praised by the others who took the time to review it and am also gleeful the authors' obvious political bent didn't get past some. I have to say I absolutely ADORED this book. The subject matter was fascinating and it was presenting in an interesting way. But did we have to be subjected to examples of George Bush at every turn to make the point? Okay, already, I am not thrilled with him either but c'mon! It bothered me that the authors used this wonderful book to make their political point. They even made their biggest point right at the END of the book so you are left wondering, "Geez...did they just write this whole book so they could get that in?" Nah, of course not! Anyhow, it lost some credibility with me because of it. It would have been nice to have had more unbiased examples.

    That being said, buy it, read it, learn from it. It's really worth it. ...more info
  • Interesting but has a definite liberal bias
    The book is interesting. The subject of the book is our "blind spots." Unfortunately, the authors seem to have a few blind spots of their own, which is not surprising. Unfortunately, it makes the book annoying to those of us who don't buy into the liberal political view. Specifically, almost every time the authors pick a public figure as an example of bad behavior, they almost invariably pick a conservative or republican. Dick Cheney, George W Bush, Antonin Scalia, etc etc. Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton get mentioned, but in a much softer light. It seems that liberals just don't make as many mistakes as us conservatives. I expected better, especially since the authors spend a lot of time talking about the importance of unbiased psychological experiments. ...more info
  • A fascinating and dispiriting key to the human mind
    If stars were awarded based on the number of times one mentioned a book to friends and colleagues, "Mistakes Were Made" would rate an 11. This book, written in an accessible style, provides one of the most succinct and persuasive looks into the way human beings manage their self-image. The thread throughout the book's narrative is Cognitive Dissonance Theory, a psychological model positing that the human mind is incapable of holding two contradictory notions simultaneously. That's all the more true when one of the notions is tied to one's self-image. What do humans do when faced with the dissonance between "I am a very good person!" and "I just stabbed my co-worker in the back"? More often than not, the mind's self-justification software kicks into high gear, often to the detriment of accuracy. When abetted by "confirmation bias" -- the tendency to accept evidence that supports one's view and reject that which contradicts it -- the picture emerges of beings whose self-evident rightness is hard to dislodge.

    Authors Tavris and Aronson provide scientific basis from the social sciences for their conjectures. The results are not flattering. For instance, those who endure a harsh initiation into a group will rate it more positively (sometimes wildly so!) than those who have paid a small psychic price for joining. The mind cannot tolerate the idea that it went through a difficult, expensive and/or embarrassing ordeal for nothing. By inflating the group's value, or by reducing the initiation's toll ("Naw, it wasn't so bad!") the mind reduces the dissonance between its self-valuation as competent and the merit of the choice it made.
    The place where Tavris and Aronson really hit home is in their discussion of memory. Far from being a static and permanent record of our experiences, memory is far more fungible than we would like it to be. Research has shown that some "memories" are entirely false, based on post-hoc mental reconstructions. The most notable example was of the woman who had fond memories of her father reading her a book -- a book she later was shocked to discover had not been published until after his death! More notorious examples involve psychologists who spearheaded the memory recovery movement. In case after case, these professionals inadvertently created memories of childhood traumas -- including sexual abuse -- that destroyed lives and families. Not surprisingly, the psychologists, faced with the dissonant reality that they had been responsible for so much pain, reacted by justifying their behavior and/or claiming that the victims were still being controlled by their alleged abusers.

    "Mistakes Were Made" may seem like a breezy little book about kooky human behavior. But the conclusions can have far-ranging and devastating consequences and can be applied to everything from marriage to politics. In a controversial approach that might turn off some readers, the authors discuss attitudes toward the current American war in Iraq. When 40% of a nation's citizen believe (after much press to the contrary) that Iraq's Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, the consequences of Cognitive Dissonance Theory become sinister indeed.

    If you are honest with yourself, you will be strongly affected by the implications of "Mistakes Were Made," since all of us (even book reviewers) are capable of self-deception. What Tavris and Aronson seem to indicate is the frightening conclusion that this self-deception is not merely a moral issue or a bad habit, but is rooted deep in our neurons -- making it at once difficult to discover on self-reflection (since self-reflection itself can be distorted by self-justification and shifting memory) and difficult to correct.

    But there is good news, which I have experienced personally. Having been exposed to the ideas in the book, we can be more mindful of how our own minds can betray us. And mindfulness leads to correction, and then to a more accurate view of ourselves, our neighbors and the truth....more info
  • I make plenty of mistakes, but reading this book was NOT one of them...
    This book was enlightening and disturbing on several points. The most frightening chapter for me discussed police interrogations. For those of you who have been around to remember the stories of the McMartin preschool, you will be especially horrified to learn of the tactics interrogaters use to get you to confess to a crime you never committed.

    You would also be amazed about the author's revelations about the theory of repression. It was most disturbing to me that trained "professional" psychiatrists still attempt to explain a patient's underlying problems through some repression of a traumatic experience. As stated in this book, the problem for most people who have suffered traumatic experiences is not that they forget them but that they cannot forget them: The experiences keep intruding. But, the result of some patients to be encouraged to "remember" their past traumas has led to the destruction of family relationships. For clinicians to admit they were incorrect in bring forth the "repressed event" they would have to also admit that their faulty theory resulted in the distruction of the patient's relationships.

    Apparently only about 27% of Americans now support our president (or perhaps the person who is really running things... the vice president.) That seems an amazing statistic to me. I mean, how on earth could 27% of the people still think that George W. Bush is doing a worthy job?

    Two words: Cognitive dissonance.

    Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term which describes the uncomfortable tension that may result from having two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or from engaging in behavior that conflicts with one's beliefs. If you voted for Bush in 2000, and maybe even again in 2004, you would have to admit that you made a mistake in electing a man that has been possibly this nation's worst president.

    When I read this book, it all became very clear to me. We all do what we can to appear to be doing the right thing. We all want to look wise and knowledgeable. And when we make a mistake, we attempt to justify what we have done. No one wants to appear clueless; not even the Bush administration. That's why we have several different justifications for why we are in Iraq. They keep changing the reasons, because to admit a mistake would be to look unwise and foolish to the American people.

    I told everyone I know that they absolutely need to read this book. But, they'll have to get their own copy because I want to reread mine.
    ...more info
  • An important book
    Nutshell review - This is not only an excellent book but an important one as well. I cannot recommend it highly enough and I am sure that all of us can gain valuable insights into the all too human problem of cognitive dissonance - the logical inconsistencies and contradictions between our beliefs and our actions (or those of others).

    Why do we make mistakes but then deny any wrong-doing, sometimes even going so far as to defend them and, sadly, even repeating them? Self-justification is the answer and although it neatly lets us resolve any internal dissonance it unfortunately often comes at huge cost to both ourselves and others. This book is important because we all are at risk of the paired dangers of cognitive dissonance and self-justification. The insights offered in this eminently readable and engaging book provides an excellent guide to stopping our self-justifications before problems get out of hand.
    ...more info
  • Uncommon sense
    When you have passed Psych 101, you close the book and move on, little knowing that you have learned and forgotten valuable information. Carol Tavris brings us back to that text book and teaches how we can be better thinkers and critics by taking a simple concept to heart - cognitive dissonance.
    But beware. If you want to avoid facing your mean little self, you might want to avoid this book. If it doesn't make you squirm, you missed the point....more info
  • It made me see the world differently
    What a wonderful book. I actively recommend it to all my students and all my friends. As opposed to much popular social science, this is written by the experts themselves. The book explores some of the effects of cognitive dissonance reduction, with telling examples. The book reminded me of Tom Schelling's great book, Micromotives and Macrobehavior. That book, written by an economist, explains how very small differences in individual behavior can lead to very large differences in societal outcomes. This book, written by psychologists, explains how small differences in two people's initial positions can lead to very large differences over time because of the way we weed out contrary information. ...more info
  • how ego maintenance exacts a huge price
    Who wants to admit he was wrong, made a mistake, exercised poor judgment, was misled or conned? None of us do, but most of us are skillful at excusing or justifying those acts. This absorbing book explains why and how we reduce "cognitive dissonance" to maintain a favorable self image in spite of overt misbehavior or failure. Beyond that, the authors show how destructive this tendency can be, not just in terms of social fairness or justice but also in the insidious corrosion of our own beings. There are fascinating examples of the most mind-boggling efforts to justify inexcusable, criminal, inhuman, and hateful behavior. And there are inspiring stories of people, good people who nevertheless state clearly that they blew it, that they were responsible for another person's destruction, loss, freedom, reputation, or life itself. Finally, this book offers real hope in showing an alternative to our culture's perverse fear of making a mistake and even worse, admitting to one. They provide true stories of how such admissions can actually deter litigation instead of inviting it. In an engaging yet logical argument they make a most convincing case for the power and healing potential of personal humility, honesty, and continual self-examination. If this book was widely read and its principles applied I think there would be a lot of unemployed attorneys. And a far better world to live in. I will be re-reading this book soon. ...more info
  • Great Primer for Respobsibility taking
    This book should be in everybodies library. I have read this gem several times and intend to read again. My wife has read and we're getting copies for our adult children. Recommended for anyone wanting to improve relationships with family, friends and co-workers....more info
  • The Milgram experiment in a new light
    The Milgram experiment, where college students volunteering in a study were "commanded" by the head of the experiment to gradually increase the voltage of shocks administered to other volunteers - even as the recipients screamed in pain, is often used as an example of how sheepish people are in the face of authority (The shockers continued shocking after the simple statement by the head scientist that "The experiment requires that you continue." Talk about The Shock Doctrine!)

    This book has a different, more pragmatic take on that experiment, to wit: humans drift off into unethical behavior by taking gradual steps, each of which erodes their resistance to taking the next step toward eventual criminal behavior. Once a person takes that first step toward corruption, the following steps become nearly irresistible. Rationalization is therefore a "gateway drug" of which there is an unlimited supply. Let "The War on Rationalization" begin!

    The mechanism of rationalization is the subject of this book. The mechanism is described in Dissonance Theory. This theory, which I suppose we should call an Hypothesis until further notice, offers a convincing explanation for why people "blame the victim" so often and so readily. If I do something unethical (which we, as social animals, are more or less hard-wired to recognize, at least on some level), I can either recognize that lapse and atone for it or, as most people opt to do, rationalize that unethical behavior in order to defend myself and my social status, at least to my own eyes and to my own "underlings". Once I choose rationalization to minimize the discomfort I feel at the lack of congruence between my image of myself as an ethical person and the actions which I know were unethical, I slide down the slippery slope toward projection. Projection is the device by which I further alleviate the discomfort I feel by projecting my own unethical behavior onto the victim of my unethical action. This has been the M-O of Rove, etc.. Out a CIA agent investigating WMD in Iran because she's married to the guy who cast doubt on your story about Iraq's WMD (Nope, no WMD here!), then blame the CIA agent and her husband for betraying the country. Works like magic!! Except, of course, that there were no WMDs and the revelation of the agent's name by the press, encouraged by Rove, Cheney, Libby, et. al. put all those associated with that agent in mortal danger. Yeah, that's how dissonance, rationalization and projection roll.

    This book does an excellent job of describing the mechanism and showing how we all are subject to its "wonder working ways." I highly recommend it....more info
  • Very good book. Bought 2 coppies for my children. As a retired trial lawyer i think it is required reading for everyone.
    I first encountered the theory of cognitive dissonance in undergraduate school in the early 60s. Since then the theory seems to have proved its worth in continued scientific studies. About 50 years of scientific scrutiny lends great credibility.

    I remember the "recovered memory" sex accusations as they unfolded starting 20 years ago or so and I remember telling my wife and teen age children that I thought the "evidence" was not credible. This book does an excellent job of stating the case for the inaccuracy of memory. I hope this leads to more informed discussion of the subject. ...more info
  • Mistakes were made
    I am familiar with Aronson's work with cognitive dissonance but its application to real situations, such as: wrongful convictions and childhood memories was impressive. I couldn't lay the book down....more info
  • A bit overdone
    Good explanation & application of Festinger's Cognative Dissonance theory.It does,however share the fault of many psychological theory books in that the authors naively attempt to overly apply their theories to cover present & past historical/political realities. Here,the authors show their overextention & lack of knowledge of history. Their attempts to cover the history of Islam & it's collision course with Christianity/Judaism range from foolish to downright embarassing. That said,this is a valuable & insightful book....more info
  • Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)
    Mistakes Were Made review

    Everyone clinging to the clump of dirt we call the earth should read Carol Tavris and Eliot Aronson's book!

    Tavris and Aronson provide answers to why people do what they do in the most informative, readable and enjoyable format. They open by explaining the problem--"cognitive dissonance," the engine of self-justification--and then go on to explain how this psychological function applies to medicine, law, love and marriage, to the daily challenges of being human. They ask fundamental questions: Why do politicians cling tenaciously to a discredited belief? What is memory and how does it work to support our subjective belief systems?

    You will love how Tavris and Aronson use current events to explain human conduct. As an attorney who practices in the civil arena, I had much to learn from their description of what really happens in the criminal justice system. In fact, you'll never see the OJ case in the same light again!

    Tavris and Aronson tell us why "we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts." Read their book and you will be better equipped to understand both your own behavior and the world around you.
    ...more info
  • Should be required reading!
    An amazing book that brings insight into politics and social issues in light of our desire to remain "right." A must read for anyone dedicated to social change....more info
  • Lyrics to Yesterday
    Paul McCartney recently commented on all the remakes of his song "Yesterday". He took time out once to listen to numerous other versions and he noted that many singers changed the lyrics.

    He cited Elvis and Sinatra who sang "I must've said something wrong, now I long for yesterday..."

    But his lyrics are "I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday..." He was admitting to a mistake, something Elvis and Frank could not bring themselves to do.

    So even in a song, some people can't actually admit they made a mistake. McCartney thought these changes were a hoot....more info
  • Excellent, comprehensive, disturbing
    We make mistakes. We do not admit them. We justify them. We rationalize them. But of course, we do not know we are in denial. We have opinions about people, formed on the basis of their gender, race, color, religion, ethnicity, sexual preferences, and much more. These are stereotypes, which can degenerate into prejudices and worse. Memories can deceive us. Experts, especially self-styles ones, can do more harm than good. This is the crux of the book, and the authors spend the bulk of the book describing this process in a variety of situations.

    The book is well written. It is well organized. Persuasive, passionate, well-researched. The cons, if you have to pick, are that the book could does not get deep enough into any of the topics that it covers in its chapters, so you would necessarily have to look someplace else after reading this book on the areas that it dwells on. A minor quibble, that some people may have, is with its brief mention of political denials and self-justifications.

    Gays, blacks, Jews, Chinese (immigrant workers in the US), Japanese (interred during the Second World War), parents, children, spouses, students, - no stereotype, no denomination, no group, is left out.

    Impressive as the initial material in the book is, I believe that the real value of this book comes through in the latter chapters. Chapter 3 ("Memory, the Self-justifying Historian"), Chapter 4 ("Good Intentions, Bad Science"), Chapter 6 ("Love's Assassin: Self-justification in Marriage"), Chapter 5 ("Law and Disorder")

    Excerpts from the book:

    "Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent..... people don't rest easy until they find a way to reduce it...." [page 13]

    "Children learn to justify their aggressive actions early: .... Aggression begets self-justification, which begets more aggression." [page 27]

    "Dissonance is bothersome under any circumstance, but it is most painful to people when an important element of their self-concept is threatened - typically when they do something that is inconsistent with their view of themselves." [page 29]

    The longest journey begins with the first step. Well... "How do you get an honest man to lose his ethical compass? You get him to take one step at a time, and self-justification will do the rest." [page 37]

    "In a sense, dissonance theory is a theory of blind spots." [page 42]

    "Prejudices emerge from the disposition of the human mind to perceive and process information in categories. 'Categories' is a nicer, more neutral word than 'stereotypes', but it's the same thing. [page 57]
    Stereotypes can be useful at times, because they act as "energy-saving devices that allow us to make efficient decisions on the basis of past experience .... quickly process new information ... often with considerable accuracy." [page 57] but "the downside is that stereotypes flatten out differences within the category we are looking at and exaggerate differences between categories" ... "a stereotype might bend or even shatter under the weight of disconfirming evidence, but the hallmark of prejudice is that it is impervious to reason, experience, and counterexample." [page 60]
    Why we continue to be prejudiced is also part of our selves and "so hard to eradicate... they allow people to justify and defend their most important identities - their race, their religion, their sexuality - while reducing the dissonance between 'I am a good person' and 'I really don't like those people'." [page 65]

    Memory plays a very important role in the whole process of self-justification... "because memory is reconstructive, it is subject to confabulation. .... In reconstructing a memory, people draw on many sources." which can lead to "source confusion." [page 73]
    "Memories create our stories, but our stories also create our memories. Once we have a narrative, we shape our memories to fit into it." [page 77]
    "False memories allow us to forgive ourselves and justify our mistakes, but sometimesa ta high price: an inability to take responsibility for our lives." [page 93]

    False memories can also lead to tragic consequences, as with the case of Holy Ramona, who at the insistence and suggestions of her therapist, came to 'remember' that she had been sexually abused by her father. After a court foudn the therapist guilty of planting false memories and the father innocent, Holy experienced dissonance, and chose instead to continue believing in these false memories, even to the extent of becoming a psychotherapist, and "encouraging some of her clients to recover childhood memories of their own sexual abuse".

    "We give ourselves credit for our good actions but let the situation excuse the bad ones." [page 169]
    "... but the evidence shows clearly that while inebriation makes it easier for people to reveal their prejudices, it doesn't put those attitudes in their minds in the first place. [page 63]. So the next time you find yourself saying, 'but I was angry, drunk, tired, etc...', keep this in mind.

    How do perpetrators go about "minimizing their moral culpability"? Using several ways, as you would expect.
    "The first, naturally, was to say that they did nothing wrong at all." [page 193]
    "The second strategy was to admit wrongdoing but excuse or minimize it." [page 194]
    "The third strategy, when perpetrators .... could not deny or minimize responsibility, was to admit they had done something wrong and hurtful, and then try to get rid of the episode as fast as possible." ... and to get "a reassuring sense of closure." [page 194]

    This whole exercise of self-justification and denial extends, as one would expect, to torture also.
    "The universal justification for torture is the ticking-time-bomb excuse." [page 202]
    The trouble is that those circumstances are very rare, so the 'saving lives' excuse starts being used even when there is no ticking and there is no bomb." .... "Once torture is justified in rare cases, it is easier to justify it in others;" [page 203]....more info