Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts” as Want to Read:
Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  23,984 ratings  ·  1,234 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
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 7th 2007 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2007)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.01  · 
Rating details
 ·  23,984 ratings  ·  1,234 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
Jun 05, 2009 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
Morgan Blackledge
Mar 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Clumsy Storyteller
This was really a GREAT book, but a lot has changed since i picked it up *but i promise that i'll get back to you and read THE WHOLE book this time not just few pages. it's not you sweetie it's me....sometimes i talk to books like they're real people, not creepy at all*! i got really distracted by shiny new books that were delivered to my house and i just couldn't focus on this one.

Apr 17, 2008 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In this book we see the the trail of self-justification through the territories of family, memory, therapy, law, prejudice, conflict, and war.
How we do self justification before the decision and after the decision is taken
Example : U.S - Iraq war
It show how self justification work in Iraq war.It started with Iraq had pile of weapon of mass destruction but at the end of event there was no such thing still we try to justified the event with other matter such as stability in Middle East democracy
Kiwi Begs2Differ  ✎
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
Ross Blocher
Jun 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
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
Dec 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
Shelves: relativist, brain
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
A really great book that has shown me many misconceptions that I had about human nature and mistakes that I do but thought did not consider them to be mine. I especially enjoyed the last chapter of the book were the author talked about the importance of mistakes in learning, something I personally believe to be missing from many cultures and most definitely missing in mine.
Dec 24, 2008 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
Peter Tillman
Nov 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Peter by: WSJ, I think
Rather than actually write a review three years on, I will refer you to my colleague Susan Stepney's first-rate review:
"No-one is a monster in their own view, yet people do monstrous things. At a less extreme level, people do petty and mean things too. Why?

The thesis of this book is that we rewrite our memories to overcome cognitive dissonance. How can we have done a bad thing, if we are good people?"

The best review I saw here is by Trevor: https://www.go
Jun 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Aasem Bakhshi
Aug 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
In the beginning, you think it's a fresh application of Festinger's theory; then you think it's about human species in general; then you think, aah, it's about politics too; about history, about ideas as well; finally, you realize it's primarily about you, the reader. A very interesting take on an idea which is now half a century old. ...more
Jan 02, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
May 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Aya Hamouda
Oct 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology, favorites
"A tree Is Known By its Fruit " , so as this book
The title of the book was precisely picked .It was such a great experience and trip for me to read such a wonderful and well written socio psychological book. The Author really did a great job to the extent that every page was a new experience for me .

-Through this book You will understand "why some people try hard to justify their own mistakes and not to admit them"
-as the author wrote :
“In the horrifying calculus of self-deception, the grea
Eric Phillips
Apr 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Geoff Ball
Jan 06, 2014 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
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: disturbia, 2018
I was (uncomfortably) shocked to the core reading this- others attest to same. Particularly disturbing are the passages on the judiciary. None of it sits comfortably on any level, and I found myself 'guilty' on most charges. Working on ways currently to mitigate the self-justification effect for myself: but its sooooo hard. Especially when you don't realise you're doing it. ...more
I have dubbed this book, 'The Analytical Sledgehammer.'

Mistakes Were Made has become one of my favorite books of all time. It should be required reading for every human being. At its heart, this book examines everything humans believe about their own selves and the world at large. How have we come to believe what we do about ourselves, the people we love, & those we punish? Where did ideas of fairness come from. Why is it so hard to admit fault? What does it all mean on a personal and societal
Tariq Mahmood
Nov 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Unfortunately the more we learn the more we get confident, of our knowledge and our experiences; refusing to believe in our errors. And these errors if not detected become mistakes which will be repeated over and over again, especially if these mistakes become the norm, practised and preached by a majority of professionals. The book lists a number of excellent and relevant examples to make a case for recurring mistakes which are set in stone. Anyone who is in a position of power is most vulnerab ...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
Michael Perkins
Oct 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The most disturbing chapter is about the U.S. legal system, how we like to "railroad" suspects, including through phony forensics. Prosecutors and judges resist appeals because such "blemishes" would get in the way of moving up in their careers.

Forensic science is not what we see on TV. Most of it is not dependable and often used to convict people falsely


Sep 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Denial and Population 3 21 Jan 01, 2018 10:26AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Can't create new edition 7 23 May 31, 2015 04:45AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average
  • The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger
  • How We Decide
  • Stumbling on Happiness
  • The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home
  • The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us
  • Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
  • Let's Talk: ...About Making Your Life Exciting, Easier, And Exceptional
  • Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
  • Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior
  • The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good
  • The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
  • Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine
  • What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite
  • The Procrastination Cure: 21 Proven Tactics For Conquering Your Inner Procrastinator, Mastering Your Time, And Boosting Your Productivity!
  • Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement
See similar books…
See top shelves…
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

News & Interviews

We all want to spend more time lost in the pages of great books. That's the idea behind our annual 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge! It's...
93 likes · 13 comments
“History is written by the victors, but it's victims who write the memoirs.” 173 likes
“In the horrifying calculus of self-deception, the greater the pain we inflict on others, the greater the need to justify it to maintain our feelings of decency and self-worth.” 30 likes
More quotes…