Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Why is it so hard for us to admit we have made a mistake? Why do we justify our actions? Why is it so hard to change our minds when we think we are right?

The authors wrote this book with a goal of understanding those behaviors. I learned tons about why we say what we do to ourselves. Self-justification, for example. We convince ourselves we made the best choice possible. Unfortunately, that blocks us from seeing our errors and learning from them.

I read about cognitive dissonance and how it changes our perception. When we see disconfirming evidence, we will criticize the source (fake news), distort or outright dismiss it. Maintaining the belief is more important than truth. And we have confirmation bias, the reason it is so hard to change our minds when we have made a firm decision.

I also learned much about blind spots, how our memories change (or we change them purposely), and false memories. The authors give many examples of interrogators (such as child psychologists) manipulating people to confess to crimes or report non-existing events. They give examples of law enforcement officials and prosecutors refusing to admit mistakes even when DNA evidence finally proves them wrong.

Rounding out this informative book are thoughts on the price paid for for justifying decisions that cause pain to others. For example, international acts are justified by saying our deeds were bad but not nearly as bad as theirs.

The authors end the book reminding us of the benefits of admitting mistakes. There is a positive effect. For politicians, admitting a mistake results in constituents admiring the person is big enough to admit wrong and desire to learn from mistakes.

This is an interesting book that is very informative and easy to read. I really found it enlightening in explaining much of the rhetoric we hear today.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Carol Tavris is a social psychologist, lecturer, and writer. Her books include Anger and The Mismeasure of Woman. She has written op-eds, reviews, and articles for a number of publications. She lives in Los Angeles.
Elliot Aronson is an eminent social psychologist. He has received numerous awards for his scientific research, teaching, and writing. His books include The Social Animal, Nobody Left to Hate, and his memoir, Not by Chance Alone. He lives in Santa Cruz, California.

Mariner Books, 400 pages.

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