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Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
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Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  11,011 ratings  ·  537 reviews
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 compe
Kindle Edition
Published (first published 2007)
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Jun 09, 2009 Trevor rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Trevor by: David Giltinan
I found this a remarkably challenging book to read. There was a time when I thought psychology was an odd sort of discipline. As someone who had studied physics for a while I couldn’t really bring myself to call it a science and as someone who studied philosophy I also felt it had failings on that score too. My understanding of psychology was fairly limited, but Freudian, Jungian, Behaviourist and god knows what other –isms all seemed to me to depend too much on a foundation that seemed much too ...more
"People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls." - C.G. Jung

"Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin." - Barbara Kingsolver

Neither of the quotes above were included in this book, but they speak to some of the ideas at its core. Anyone who has any social psychology, experimental methods course, and/or paid cursory attention to the bevy of material out there about how the human mind and we, as people, work, will find a lot of fam
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 t
Ultimately, I think that Tavris's conclusions about self-justification are probably correct, but her argument was flawed. There were a number of things that put me off from this book. Here's my list of gripes:

1) The book relied much too heavily on anecdotal evidence to prove its points. Tavris did back up her claims about self-justification with some psychological research (that sounded like it was peer-reviewed, I guess), but it was pretty sparse (like 1 study per chapter if that---as opposed t
Jun 27, 2008 Ryan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ryan by: class text
This is yet another wonderful book written by social psychologists, although it is probably unlikely to make the New York Times best seller list for a couple of reasons. First, this book ranks right up there with Jimmy Carter’s famed “Great Malaise” speech that pointed an accusing finger at the American people for all of their problems. No one wants to know that WE are the cause of the problem, just like no one really wants to know that I made a mistake, not someone else. This book is about cogn ...more
As someone interested in the psychology of religion, it's always interesting to me how cognitive weaknesses play a role in establishing and maintaining religious beliefs. Some atheists are wont to believe that religion is a kind of mental illness, but this book (and others) make it clear that's really not so. The vast majority of religious people are cognitively normal. It's just that normal human cognition is very prone to making certain kinds of errors, and religious memes propagate very easil ...more
Four words:

Cognitive dissonance
Confirmation bias

According to the authors, therein lies the explanation for people's unwillingness to admit mistakes, even to themselves, in a variety of realms. This far-reaching book tackles irrational prejudices, false memories, misjudgement as a psychotherapist, prosecuting the wrong individual, blaming one's spouse for marital problems, etc. And it offers a basic explanation: we have a difficult time integrating two conflicting beliefs, such as "I'm a great pe
I've been a longtime fan of both authors (especially Tavris), so my expectations were pleasantly met. Most of it, of course, is hammering away at how the fundamental attribution error influences relationships between couples, coworkers, or nations. They reframe the psychobabble as "self-justification" as the root of these conflicts and ongoing interpersonal difficulties. Their citations of clinical works also brings up the interesting possibility that mindfulness-based interventions may be most ...more
Morgan Blackledge
OMFG. This book is relentless. Reading it is an ordeal. A wonderful, fruitful ordeal. But an ordeal none the less. Every page and chapter has been an opportunity for self examination and (I hope) enhanced self honesty, insight and personal growth.

And just in case that sounds to woo woo for you. It should be noted that the assertions made in the book are backed by decades worth of hard, experimentally derived evidence.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Both authors are respected researchers in
Eric Phillips
A highly engaging discussion on how people use self-justification to avoid admitting they've made a mistake or hurt someone or otherwise deal with the "cognitive dissonance" we encounter when one of our cherished beliefs runs aground on the rock of cold, hard reality. The one quibble I would have is the division the authors make of the world into "perpetrators" and "victims" -- a language that masks the real complexity of certain relationships and interactions in which both parties are one and t ...more
The title of the book gives the impression that it's a self-help book. It's more of a psychology book explaining how people can make mistakes, think they are right, and honestly believe that. A good example is false memories. How often have you said, "I could have sworn I did that." You see the event in your head, yet evidence shows it didn't happen. You rationalize it ("someone must have moved it") instead of accept the most obvious answer ("I was mistaken in thinking that I did it").

The books
May 27, 2008 Piezocuttlefish rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who's made a mistake
Mistakes Were Made is a tour through the different ways in which cognitive dissonance motivates otherwise normal, good people to do wretched things. Making such stops as the tragedies of recovering so-called repressed memories, the unfortunate bias of the parts of the legal system which are immune to criticism, and growing disparities of perception between perpetrators and victims, Mistakes Were Made also highlights many other scientific and psychological tidbits. Carol Tavris and Elliot Aron ...more
Jun 05, 2014 Stefanos rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Stefanos by: Trevor
Shelves: science
I wonder why this book isn’t on top of a ‘the most disturbing books’ list!It’s the kind of book that makes you feel safer while fully naked and unarmed in the woods instead of our over-complicated society full of self-delusional phonies.Who to trust?How to even trust ourselves?Still,i decided to stay because i realised that in a forest i would deprive of the basic needs of Maslow's pyramid,books,music and internet.It’s the updated 2.0 edition,didn’t you know?The exaggeration is obvious but i sti ...more
The authors describe a "dissonance theory" of self-justification. We don't like thinking of ourselves as ignorant or ill-intentioned, so to avoid this dissonance, we try to convince ourselves and others that we are doing the right thing. We may justify to protect our high self-esteem or even our low self-esteem, if that is our default state that we are reluctant to leave.

Justification of incorrect beliefs or forbidden actions is easy when it is done incrementally, what we often call a "slippery
Fascinating and eye-opening analysis of cognitive dissonance and the steps we take to reduce the dissonance. Politicians are the easy targets, and exploited here as such, but Tavris & Aronson also delve into personal stories. Several of them held up a mirror to my own self-justifications and made me flinch. Riveting and insightful. Recommended.
I should start by saying I find social psychology fascinating! This book is about cognitive dissonance , which basically means having two conflicting beliefs and the measures we will resort to in order to defend and justify our beliefs , decisions, and actions. Backed by much research, this very insightful book explains how we all are capable of self deception, why we do it, why it is harmful, and how to overcome the very human mechanism of justifying our foolish beliefs, improper actions, poor ...more
Geoff Ball
This book attempts to explain and provide an answer to the question, "how do you sleep at night?" Despite everything we do—even when it is at odds with our beliefs—cognitive dissonance allows us to say, "very well, thank you." As the authors write, "without self-justification, we might be left standing emotionally naked, unprotected, in a pool of regrets and losses." Although cognitive dissonance allows us to tell ourselves that we're decent human beings, it can lead to great contempt and embarr ...more
The authors' political biases came through as they used the beginning and the ending of the book to castigate then (2007) President George W. Bush, and to call Newt Gingrich a “hypocrite” for criticizing (now former) President Bill Clinton’s sexual affair…WITHOUT any allusion to Clinton’s defensive “I did not have sex with that woman…Miss Lewinski” statement.

But most of the center sections of the book--which thankfully were relatively free of politics--- I found endlessly fascinating. Oh, how t
Sep 20, 2010 Kathy rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Kathy by: book club
Shelves: 2010-reads
Although the authors have some good points about self-justification in a few sections of the book, they clearly spend way too much time on the "problem" and their political biases than a plausible solution to overcoming self-justification. I read the last page of the book in complete disgust as to the topic they chose to end with and completely irritated that very few solutions were offered to help minimize self-justification in ourselves as well as others. I guess I should have read the title a ...more
This was by far the best book I have read in quite a few years. Highly recommended. It was so informative and engaging that I think I wore out my welcome reading it out loud to anyone who was nearby.

Written by two social psychologists and based on years of research, it provides a fascinating overview of cognitive dissonance, and how it applies to prejudice, memory, law, marriage, and war. The most chilling aspect of the book is that it points out how we all are subject to dealing with dissonance
Tim Kadlec
The book was full of good information, and good discussions around cognitive dissonance. It's fault, however, was that the anecdotes tended to be very politically charged, and very biased.

Unfortunately, the authors bias came through very strongly in several of the examples used, and this distracts from the points the authors are attempting to make. In addition, a few of the examples felt like they didn't really fit in with the subject matter, and were instead used to continue to justify the auth
Zena Ryder
If you don't know what cognitive dissonance is, this is a great introduction. If you do know what it is, this is an easy, enjoyable read, with interesting stories and experiments that illustrate dissonance and the resulting self-justification, which will likely deepen your understanding of this all too human phenomenon.

The authors also talk about the fascinating and related phenomenon of false memories — our memories tend to get distorted (or even created!) to be self-serving. I found the secti
Having been put off by several popular books by social psychologists I read in recent years which I felt failed to deliver on the promised goods ("Emotional Intelligence" and "Social Intelligence," both by Daniel Goldman come quickly to mind), I was both relieved and impressed as I listened to the audiobook version of "Mistakes Were Made."

The authors not only convincingly support and develop their thesis from start to finish, they do so in an entertaining fashion. Furthermore, the book offers pl
Godfrey Mangenje
I my quest to research stress I came across a psychology site that supported the thesis of the the book. This may be one of those books, as simple as it may be, that has a profound message. Pertaining to stress, my original research, cognitive dissonance causes people discomfort when reality contradicts personals beliefs and values especially when those people identify personally with the beliefs and values. Because "if what I believe is an extension of who I am and reality is contradicting that ...more
This book is a study of dissonance theory, which suggests that we have a powerful inner drive to hold all our attitudes and beliefs in harmony and avoid disharmony (or dissonance). The book drills deep and makes important points, demonstrating how this is an underlying motivator of which we are scarcely aware. The brain is designed with blind spots, optical and psychological. One of its cleverest tricks is to confer on us the comforting illusion that we personally do not have any. In a sense, di ...more
Amy Anderson
I loved this book and found it so applicable to everyone. While we need justification to move forward in life and not second guess our every decision, we also need to be aware that justification can lead us to be blind sighted to truth. Its a fine line to walk.

I could quote this whole book, but here are my favorites:

"Self-justification is more powerful and dangerous than the explicit lie. It allows people to convince themselves that what they did was the best thing they could have done. In fact
Alaa  Alradi
This year I started to be more interested in social psychology books in my hope to change my default sitting to the world and understand it better, and what better way than saying I was wrong to your self and owning the mistakes to your self...

Its a very challenging book to read its started to with an eases of pointing the mistakes of politics and countries and introducing the conformation biases then going to personal stories that we are confined that happened when all evidenced are against.

Dave Burns
The book describes the effects of cognitive dissonance and related psychological phenomena, such as the unreliability of memory. I had seen the concept of cognitive dissonance mentioned in various contexts, but did not understand it well until reading this book. I'm not sure how helpful the book is in helping a reader to avoid the problems the authors describe. Cognitive dissonance will not happen in every case, and will not always take the same form, and may be overwhelmed by other opposing psy ...more
Michael Foley
I really enjoyed this book. It caused me a lot of introspection and I've been more able to catch when I'm lying to myself to feel better about my bad decisions when I really have no reason to. We all do it. Buyers' remorse, re-telling a breakup, justifying our behavior after we've hurt someone. The list goes on and on and I LOVE this book for putting me in my place.

It tackles how unreliable our memories are, How memory repression therapy is flawed at best, how corruption is easier than we think,
Manal Saad
This book is an eyeopener of how people justify their mistakes and how they end up making them without realizing so. It gave examples of how people can easily lose their ethical campus due to self-justification and cognitive-dissonance.

The book gave examples of mistakes made by people from different walks of life such as psychiatrists who believed the validity of a recovered memory; physicians and judges who think they are above conflict of interests; police officers who are confident with thei
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Carol Tavris earned her Ph.D. in the interdisciplinary program in social psychology at the University of Michigan, and ever since has sought to bring research from the many fields of psychology to the public. She is author of The Mismeasure of Woman, which won the Distinguished Media Contribution Award from the American Association from Applied and Preventive Psychology, and the Heritage Publicati ...more
More about Carol Tavris...
Mismeasure of Woman: Why Women Are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion Psychology in Perspective Psychobabble and Biobunk: Using Psychology to Think Critically about Issues in the News The Longest War: Sex Differences in Perspective

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