Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average
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Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  2,517 ratings  ·  209 reviews

We forget our passwords. We pay too much to go to the gym. We think we'd be happier if we lived in California (we wouldn't), and we think we should stick with our first answer on tests (we shouldn't). Why do we make mistakes? And could we do a little better?

We human beings have design flaws. Our eyes play tricks on us, our stories change in the retelling, and most of us a

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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 17th 2009 by Broadway (first published 2009)
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Trip
Mar 22, 2009 Trip rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Persons who wish to become less foolish
A survey of cognitive biases and other limitations of the human brain,
with references and bibliography. The conclusions:

* Take notes on your mistakes, so you can learn from them.

* Get a Devil's Advocate, even if you have to do it yourself.

* No, you aren't that good at multitasking. You really aren't.

* The plural of "anecdote" is not "data". The singular of "anecdote" is "advertising".

* Have someone without your habits check for mistakes.

* Get some sleep, damn it!

* Happy people are smarter.

* Bri...more
Trevor
Dec 30, 2009 Trevor rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Trevor by: Lena Phoenix
I’ve spent the last three days reading parts of this book to whoever will listen or (perhaps more accurately) whoever is in earshot. This really is a wonderful book and I don’t think I can recommend it too highly, but let’s see.

If I read a book, as opposed to listen to an audio book, I tend to turn down the corners of pages that say something interesting – I decided early in this book to try not to over do this, as it became clear early on I would have to turn down virtually every page. This one...more
Books Ring Mah Bell
Science light.

Quick, interesting examples of how we humans manage to goof up on everything from selecting credit cards (one can be swayed by a pretty face to take that high interest rate!) to cutting off the wrong leg in surgery. (Overconfidence is a bitch!)

The author explains mysteries of life, such as, "why did I give that stripper so much more for that lap dance this week?" answer: she's in that fertile cycle, where she appears more lovely (and maybe even smells better too!)

He also explains...more
Lena
Of the various books I've read on the quirks of human cognition and how they affect our lives, this is one of the most readable. Journalist Joseph Hallinan has a storyteller's ability to take some of the most interesting research on problems with how our brains process information and weave it into a very effective argument for why it's a really, really bad idea to try to text while driving.

Hallinan begins his book with a chapter titled "We Look But We Don't Always See," addressing how limitati...more
Dave
I took this book along to a doctor's office thinking it might be interesting. It may be post operative displacement, but this is a book that makes my heart glad, tickles my brain and stimulates the production and release of endorphins almost as much as a good bicycle ride. There's not much new to someone (like me) who has done a bit of reading in the field of human error, but the book is so well written and neatly documented that, for me, it's a pure intellectual pleasure so far. The author illu...more
Ann
Edit! Gotta tell you guys that Joeseph Hallinan is the nicest writer ever. I wrote and asked him about visual inspection errors, and he actually called me to tell about people doing research in that area I could get in contact with. THAT is above and beyond. How amazing is that?

**

Easy science read on why we make the kinds of mistakes we do. I thought it was excellently written, and the audiobook version was well done...though some of the 'try it yourself at home' quizzes don't translate as well...more
David
This book covers some of the same behavioral economics territory considered in such recent books as Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....), "Nudge" by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....), and the Bronfman brothers' "Sway" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). There is also significant overlap with Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson's excellent "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs...more
David
"Behavioral Economics for Dummies" would be a suitable subtitle for this book. The author isn’t a researcher or expert on the topic, or even someone with a particular message, just a journalist looking for a book to write and a drawer full of antidotal tidbits related to behavioral economics. As a result, the book is a cursory survey of the field presented by way of somewhat amusing little stories. I felt like I was at the breakfast table listening to a spouse read off newspaper articles… “Here’...more
Amanda
There was some really fascinating stuff in here, but it wasn't as in-depth or thought-provoking as other similar books I've read (like "How We Know What Isn't So"). It was still well-researched and fairly informative though, especially for being such a light read. You could breeze through it in a weekend, and get plenty out of it. There are also fun tidbits and experiments (like testing your memory of what a penny looks like), and overall it was a good balance of dry facts and well-crafted insig...more
Ellanden
It was an interesting read. Here are the cliff notes: We don't see. When we actually do read, we only skim. Our memories are biased. "Hindsight is 20/20," it is actually a bad thing. We'd rather fail by inaction than action. Drs make a zillion mistakes (always get a 2nd opinion!). Feedback is a powerful way to shape human behavior...and not all for good. Warren Buffet learns from his mistakes (ie: buying Dexter Shoe Co.) - but most people don't. We don't become more informed over time - just ove...more
Brian Saul
Very interesting summary of countless studies on reasons we goof up. Part way through, I was beginning to believe there's no way to avoid making mistakes. Later on, I was reminded that one could learn from one's own mistakes, but it's infinitely better to learn from OTHERS' mistakes. Except that we, generally, don't. The author's conclusions: One can expect to make _fewer_ mistakes, but it involves several skills and techniques such as thinking small. "The tiniest little change in circumstance c...more
Lorin Kleinman
Human beings have an interesting dilemma. Sanity, I suspect, hinges to some degree on believing ourselves to be right more often than not, on believing that what we see is actually there, and that what we remember actually happened. Unfortunately, we are very often wrong, about almost everything. In Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average, Joseph T. Hallinan entertainingly plumbs the depths of our errors.

In a st...more
Mazola1
Why We Make Mistakes takes an entertaining and sometimes amusing look at the peculiarities, quirks and limitations of the human mind.
We all know we do dumb things, and that we persist in doing dumb things even when we have every reason to know better. This book explains why. We don't pay attention. We don't read directions. We make snap judgments based on scant data. We think we know more than we do. Our eyes fool us.

While it's tempting to think that reading this book might reduce one's tenden...more
Jackie
Lots of ideas substantiated with data and studies... Depressed people see things realistically. Happy people think outside of the box. It is easier to not act than to act and make a mistake. The line to the left will almost always be shortest. We make decisions part from the gut and part from being rational-- the problem is when we make a smart decision we don't know how the decision was made. One way to improve the quality of your decisions is to document your decisions (i.e. not just why you c...more
Sue
I thought this book answered its title well. You do find out the many different reasons that we make mistakes. In fact, there are so many reasons for us to make mistakes, it's somewhat of a miracle that we actually get as much done correctly that we do. Hallinan also discusses how to take the knowledge of why we make mistakes and apply it so that we make less mistakes. I think this book should be required reading for organizations and companies where mistakes should be minimized -- hospitals, pa...more
Kevin
Another in my series of easy, thought provoking reads which have included Blink, Outliers and this book to name a few. Here is what I learned:

1) Why men don't ask for directions (totally agree with this)
2) Why gamblers are overconfident (agree. again)
3) Who makes the most mistakes
4) There is no such thing as human multi-tasking

A fun, easy and informative book. Joseph Hallinan has a good sense of humor while still keeping things tight and moving. Unusually arranged and presented (jumped around it...more
Rebecca
I highly recommend this book. I may actually BUY it. The research looks thorough and legitimate, but it doesn't prevent this from being an easy, enjoyable read. You already know many of the reasons you make mistakes, but seeing them all together may allow you to forgive yourself (and others) for small lapses. And if you don't like making mistakes, there are concrete suggestions for reducing their liklihood.
Annemieke Windt
Joseph T. Hallinan explores human error in Why We Make Mistakes. Littered with great anecdotes, such as the story of the plane crashing with all the knowledge in the world on board to save the plane and the human penchant for early gratification instead of waiting just a little bit longer.

Hallinan is a journalist and that shows in the writing. While delving into the research he delivers his new found knowledge with an easy pen, making the book great fun to read. The best message I took from the...more
Roberta Roy
A book for anyone who wonders why he or she is not more reliable--as well as for all those who think they always have the answer. For me, a great read.
Cleo
Dec 31, 2013 Cleo marked it as put-down  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult, nonfiction, science

"We forget our passwords. We pay too much to go to the gym. We think we’d be happier if we lived in California (we wouldn’t), and we think we should stick with our first answer on tests (we shouldn’t). Why do we make mistakes? And could we do a little better? We human beings have design flaws. Our eyes play tricks on us, our stories change in the retelling, and most of us are fairly sure we’re way above average. In Why We Make Mistakes, journalist Joseph T. Hallinan sets out to explore the capti...more
Ericayo
A little bit light, but a good overview of why we all think we qualify to live in Lake Woebegone.
Rjurban
This book is not what I thought it would be but it was an interesting read all the same.
Kevin
Honestly... I only THINK I read this book but can't really remember.

Hinch
Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph Hallinan is written in the style of books like Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, in that it weaves together a mix of psychology research, anecdotes, news stories, and other interesting tidbits. Unfortunately, many of the stories are only tangentially relevant to the stated aim; in some respects, it's like the author has compiled a large collection of news paper clippings and book excerpts, selected first for...more
getAbstract
Understanding guide to becoming goof-proof

A woman hanged herself in a tree on a busy street. Yet, no one reported the suicide for more than 14 hours even though her body was clearly visible. Why? Because the incident occurred on October 31st and passersby mistook the body for a Halloween decoration. This horrifying example demonstrates the way context – as well as traits that are innately human – plays a role in how people make errors. As Joseph T. Hallinan explains, human beings are biased, ove...more
Jill Furedy
Having read several decision making books, like How to Decide and Sway, among others, I was a little disappointed in how many of the exact same studies were in this book, with nothing new to draw from them. Yet there were a number of footnotes that I thought...why didn't we hear more about that? Like a note that baby faced oeople are judged as less competent but tended to be more intelligent. And toward the end of the book, he throws in a Jet Blue story where they extended their flight crew's wo...more
David Peters
Another book that reviews psychological studies in an anecdotal style. So it cites studies and results, but illustrates these with a lot of examples so you get the point. On the plus side you will have a lot of stories to tell friends when chit chatting.
Why do we screw up? We get distracted like the pilots of the airplane who flew into the ground because they all become preoccupied why a light bulb had gone out (the light bulb had failed, not the device it was measuring). We become set in our so...more
Sarah
Not a bad read. Certainly a quick one. The problem with books like this is that once they end up in paperback, the research becomes tired and outdated. I did enjoy the chapter on being above average and calibration. Calibration is not a term that I'm used to even in my considerable reading on the topic of the human brain and how it works and the errors it is prone to. I now give much more credit to the weather man (I thoroughly enjoyed the test where you had to give a range that you were 90% sur...more
Richard
I like this book by Joseph Hallinan. Lots of good information to make you a better decision maker and to avoid common pitfalls. The chapter headers [with a few of my comments] give you a good idea of what the author covers:
1. We Look but Don't Always See
2. We All Search for Meaning
3. We Connect the Dots [i.e., we make inferences based on irrelevancies]
4. We Wear Rose-Colored Glasses
5. We Can Walk and Chew Gum - but Not Much Else [i.e., multi-tasking is a myth]
6. We're in the Wrong Frame of Mind
7...more
Any Length
A good book that helps us learn from our "misplaced overconfidence" and it's sometimes detrimental results. I am partly in agreement that we ought not be too overconfident as we create pitfalls for ourselves. This shows itself in the 90% of new businesses that never make it past the 2 year mark. Why? Because people are overconfident that they can pull that kind of business off and become blind to the fact that the business idea was doomed from the start.
I do however think that thinking positive...more
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Why we Make MIstakes 2 13 Nov 24, 2012 06:41PM  
  • On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not
  • Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking
  • A Mind of its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives
  • The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us
  • Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
  • What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite
  • How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life
  • Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things
  • The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule
  • Click: The Magic of Instant Connections
  • Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
  • The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers
  • Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind
  • Willful Blindness: Why we ignore the obvious at our peril
  • The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain
  • 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior
  • The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good
  • The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World
Going Up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception Errornomics: Why We Make Mistakes and What We Can Do To Avoid Them

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“As a general principle, people feel more responsible for their actions than they do for their inactions. If we are going to err at something, we would rather err by failing to act.” 3 likes
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