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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

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  14,681 Ratings  ·  672 Reviews

Publisher's Summary

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? Backed by years of research and delivered in
Published August 7th 2010 by Audible (first published 2007)
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Jun 09, 2009 Trevor rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Apr 15, 2008 Tami rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 05, 2012 Alyssa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 liked it  ·  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
May 25, 2010 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
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
Aug 12, 2016 Kiwi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extremely interesting social psychology book on the reasons why do people do the things they do.
The author presents compelling arguments (supported by the evidence of many studies and experiments) for some puzzling human behaviours, such as why people insist on justifying indefensible positions long after they are proven wrong. She explains, among other things, the power of gifts (even low value) in swaying decision making, the reasoning behind stereotypes and strongly denied biases (and why no
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
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
Nov 12, 2015 Annie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recommend
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 accepting the most obvious answer ("I was mistaken in thinking that I did it").

The boo
Dec 24, 2011 Tucker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 04, 2007 Matthew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 27, 2008 Piezocuttlefish rated it really liked it  ·  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
Eric Phillips
Apr 20, 2008 Eric Phillips rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ross Blocher
Jun 29, 2012 Ross Blocher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my favorite book, period! Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson demonstrate how cognitive dissonance accounts for our inability to see our faults, from our personal lives all the way to the highest levels of government. This will change the way you view your own thoughts and actions, and make you a better person as a result.
Geoff Ball
Feb 07, 2014 Geoff Ball rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
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
Jan 04, 2009 Adam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Muneel Zaidi
Cognitive dissonance is a topic everyone should look into, but people placed in positions of leadership or responsibility would really benefit from a study on the matter. I enjoyed the examples presented in this book and related with a few of them as well, which helped me really understand the concept better. The the main issue I had with this book was its diminishing marginal return, the more I read the less I got out of it. Once the concept of cognitive dissonance is explained (very well too), ...more
Sep 11, 2007 Melody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 02, 2016 Jacob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This covers ground related to Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves, but it's specifically about self-justification. It's attempting to answer the question "Why do people self-justify obvious mistakes?" and look at the impact of doing so. It's pretty straightforward and quite readable.

Self-justification is a useful and even essential way for humans to prot
Jul 29, 2014 Camie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 06, 2012 Darwin8u rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
A bit uneven and towards the end a bit too Oprah-centric. Felt like the book drifted from a scientific/psychological work to a clinical/self-help piece (a rational, scientifically grounded self-help book, but still one regardless). It was interesting, but sadly disappointing too.
Vladyslav Sitalo
Dec 20, 2015 Vladyslav Sitalo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Pretty much everyone :)
Recommended to Vladyslav by:
You think about yourself as a reasonably nice person, with not perfect but good enough memory. Maybe you've done some things in your life, that you don't particularly like, but you think that in most cases, given the situation you were in, most of the people would've done the same.
So you ain't perfect but better than the most, right?

Well, this book would get you to at least question, how accurate is the description above. And it will also tell you how come you (and most of the people, even most
Amy Anderson
Jul 27, 2015 Amy Anderson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Sergei Moska
Feb 05, 2013 Sergei Moska rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although this book didn't actually teach me anything new in terms of theory (but did provide me with many details of practical cases), it nonetheless surprised me. First, I decided to read this book at this time because I've been a bit burned out from dense reading and wanted something useful but light. It was in fact both these things, but it was also far, far more depressing than I had expected. I expected this to be a “Ha ha, let's look at our foibles!” type of read. No, it's more of a “your ...more
Steven Peterson
Sep 22, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 s
Nov 19, 2009 Adelle rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jul 05, 2016 MiMi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is phenomenal! made me love Psychology even more.

This book has a protagonist , well ,i think it's more of an antagonist (to us) named : cognitive dissonance (i am so in love with this character hhhhh)

"Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me" discusses all SORTS of lengths human being may go in order to reduce cognitive dissonance.

Acting in contradiction to what u believe (cognitive dissonance) is 'painful' 'uncomfortable' so what we do?

the remedy is employed extensively by all yet litt
Zena Ryder
Mar 04, 2015 Zena Ryder rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Alaa  A
Oct 07, 2014 Alaa A rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

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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...

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