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

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris
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's review
Dec 17, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: readablenonfiction, bookclub, professionallit, thought-provoking
Read from December 17 to 22, 2011

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 person" and "I messed up" (cognitive dissonance). We will therefore respond by coming up with all kinds of creative ways to challenge the less desirable belief (usually "I messed up") in favor of clinging to the more desirable belief ("I'm a great person"). In an effort to convince ourselves that the more desirable belief is the correct one, we will selectively focus on evidence supporting the more desirable belief and deny, ignore, or minimize evidence supporting the less desirable belief (confirmation bias).

The authors' examples are fascinating and it's a great topic. Their explanations are arguably a little facile. Can we really know what's going on inside someone's head? Are all self-justifications a matter of cognitive dissonance? Are people ever correct for clinging to a belief or course of action even in the face of conflicting evidence? The fact that the points feel belabored at times suggests that the thesis may be too simple and one-dimensional to explain all the various anecdotes.

Criticism notwithstanding, this is a great topic. We could all do with a little more self-reflection when it comes to stubbornly clinging to beliefs or actions that may be detrimental. And although the actual explanations for this phenomenon are probably more complex and varied, the authors offer a good start at facing this problem and attempting to understand and hopefully challenge people's unwillingness to admit mistakes.
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06/21/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Rachayl (new)

Rachayl Ah, the title alone can be a lesson to all.

message 2: by K (new) - rated it 4 stars

K Totally. I'm hoping for a great book club discussion on this one.

message 3: by M (new) - rated it 3 stars

M Woohoo! Excited for book club assuming the book makes it to the library

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