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

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  6,693 ratings  ·  406 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...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 7th 2007 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2007)
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Tami
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...more
Trevor
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
N
Jan 02, 2008 N rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: everyone
This is easily one of my favorite non-fiction books.

When I picked it up, I had only a basic knowledge of cognitive dissonance. I'm so glad that this is the first in-depth book on the topic I read.

For one thing, it is wonderfully written. It's engaging, clear, and funny. It uses countless real life examples, both actual events and generalizations, that make it clear exactly how cognitive dissonance enters into play everywhere. The best part was they would always address how it plays out for all s...more
Alyssa
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...more
Ryan
Jun 27, 2008 Ryan rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
David
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
K
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...more
Matthew
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
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
Piezocuttlefish
May 27, 2008 Piezocuttlefish rated it 4 of 5 stars 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
Melody
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.
Annie
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...more
Kathy
Sep 20, 2010 Kathy rated it 1 of 5 stars 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
Adam
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...more
Tucker
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...more
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...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,...more
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...more
Steven Peterson
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...more
Kellie
Dec 07, 2012 Kellie rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: nook
You might like this book if you want to consider your own tendencies when you make mistakes or you are interested in learning more about the concepts of self-justification and cognitive dissonance and how these affect both the lives of individuals and society.


This was not an easy book to read (listen to), but not because of difficult language or complicated concepts. In fact, the authors did a great job of explaining their thesis in clear terms, without psychobabble and without a sense of arroga...more
Adelle
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...more
Rebekka K. Steg
This week I've been reading Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Actsby Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, an absolutely amazing book, which everyone should be acquired to read.

The book deals with the issue of self-justification, and the role it plays in all of our lives, from such "minor" issues as arguments within a relationship, to bullying,prejudicialness, torture, fraud etc.

Written by two psychologist, the book is backed by research as...more
Sergei Moska
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
Arwen
Interesting work, good book: a survey of self-justification, cognitive dissonance, and the fallibility of memory. As this has been a weighty theme for me, perhaps the dominant one in my life, I was interested. I think this is a good primer, but there are complexities unaddressed. What is it to live with flawed perceptions?

I would love someone to explore a gestalt where this research intersects with the research done in cognition cited in Gladwell's Blink. Instinct that doesn't have commitment o...more
Louise
Prior to reading this, I had only considered the theory of cognitive dissonance as it applied to holding two contrary opinions, the classic example being that of the racist with friends who are members of the race s/he denigrates. Tavris and Aronson demonstrate further applications of this theory and how destructive the behavior it spawns continues to be.

The 1980's/90's day care scandals pre-dated the 24 hour cable cycle (imagine this being covered today by Fox) so it blipped in and out of my at...more
Roberta
Make yourself a gift, read this book!
The point is: we all make mistakes. Honestly, we do. But why is so difficult to admit it?
The author and her collaborators guide us through several examples - more or less famous, more or less known - to explain how we need to excuse ourselves; we need to explain to ourselves why we behave badly, why we hurt someone else's feeling, why we start from a silly act and end up... I don't know... kidnapping the neighbor's dog.
We all experience cognitive dissonance,...more
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
julie bs
I love the premise of this book, but am turned off by the overt skepticism with which the authors approach every single case study (including ones that involve, say, childhood trauma) they use. The message seems to be "Everyone everywhere is lying and here's why." While I get that there's a fair amount of inaccuracy in people's memories and so on (hence why this book was written in the first place), the way that basically everyone who contributed their stories to this book are assumed to be enti...more
Björn
Jan 23, 2008 Björn rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Björn by: Mark from book club
Shelves: own
A good, pointed discussion about the problems caused by cognitive dissonance. The only surprise about it is how pervasive the problems are and how little attention they get from this perspective.

Even though it contains a lot of depressing facts about people, and doesn't offer an easy answer for how to get out of the dilemma it describes, I enjoyed this book. It has a surprisingly light tone given the material, and it is very accessible.

Update: Having incorporated it into my thought processes for...more
Peter
This book will get you feeling a little doubtful about yourself, and in a good way. It fosters the humility that arises when you wonder whether the grid in which you view the world is not just a little skewed, and that your perceived reality has been spun to reinforce your own biases.

Filled with numerous examples and scholarly references to "confirmation bias," this book shows how self-justifying rationalizations produced by our psyche act to tell us just what we want to know. When George Bush w...more
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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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