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Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts Hardcover – May 7, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0151010981 ISBN-10: 0151010986 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews



"Witty, provocative, and impressively documented, this work lights a candle in cursed darkness."—LOS ANGELES TIMES


"A rare gem of a book, easy to read but also scientifically sophisticated."—CONTEMPORARY SOCIOLOGY

"Social psychologists Tavris and Aronson, each of whom has published other works, here tackle "the inner workings of self-justification," the mental gymnastics that allow us to bemoan the mote in our brother''s eye while remaining blissfully unaware of the beam in our own. Their prose is lively, their research is admirable and their examples of our arrogant follies are entertaining and instructive." (Arkansas Democrat Gazette)

"A fascinating book... I recommend it to anyone who enjoys psychological and sociological studies. Sometimes floored, sometimes angry, sometimes sad, sometimes amused, but always interested, I can only hope that I will be able to apply some of what I learned in my own life." (Bookgarden)

"A pathbreaking book that could change forever how leaders think about the decisions they make . Crackles with new insights and understanding. A must read!" (Burt Nanus)

"This book should make it to the top of most summer reading lists. It speaks to the forces that keep us repeating harmful mistakes, whether it''s an everyday personal issue or an organization-wide problem. I''m interested in reading this book for a deeper window into my own behavior, but also for insight into the reasons that corruption persists around the world and vexes so many organizational and individual efforts to fight it." (Business Week Online)

"In this pre-election time, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson''s book bears a very prescient message: Just how does one learn from one''s mistakes if one refuses to admit culpability? With straightforward language and a readable style, Tavris and Aronson''s book will open your eyes and improve your life - that is, it will if you let it." (curled up with a good book.com)

"This book is charming and delightful. But mainly, it''s just damn smart. Armed with reams of scientific data and loads of real-world anecdotes, Tavris and Aronson explain how politicians, pundits, doctors, lawyers, psychotherapists--and oh yes, the rest of us--come to believe that we are right and reasonable... and why we maintain that dangerous self-deception in the face of glaring evidence to the contrary. Every page sparkles with sharp insight and keen observation. Mistakes were made--but not in this book!" (Daniel Gilbert)

"To err is human, to rationalize even more so. Now, thanks to this brilliant book, we can finally see how and why even the best meaning people may justify terrible behavior. Mistakes Were Made will not turn us into angels, but it is hard to think of a better -- or more readable -- guide to the mind''s most devilish tricks." (David Callahan)

"Tavris and Aronson-a dream team of two of psychology's greatest communicators-investigate our self-serving explanations and malleable memories, explaining how well-meaning people stay the course when pursuing ill-fated ventures, then shuck responsibility when failure arrives. This is a fascinating exploration of our astonishing powers of self-justification." (David Myers)

"Combining far-ranging scholarship with lucid, witty prose, Tavris and Aronson illuminate many of the mysteries of human behavior -- why hypocrites never see their own hypocrisy, why couples so often misremember their shared history, why many people persist in courses of action that lead straight into quicksand. A delight to read, with surprising revelations in every chapter." (Elizabeth Loftus)

"This eye-opener of a book is essential reading, not because we''ve all made mistakes - certainly not! - but because we''ve all been victims of mistakes made by others. Why do these people behave so badly? Tavris and Aronson''s explanation is illuminating, entertaining, based on solid science, and highly relevant to our public and private lives." (Judith Rich Harris)

"Please, somebody, get a copy of this book to the President and his cabinet right away. Read it aloud into the Congressional Record. If this book doesn''t change the way we think about our mistakes, then we''re all doomed." (Michael Shermer)

"A revelatory study of how lovers, lawyers, doctors, politicians--and all of us--pull the wool over our own eyes. The politician who can''t apologize, the torturer who feels no guilt, the co-worker who''ll say anything to win an argument--in case you''ve ever wondered how such people can sleep at night, a new book by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson supplies some intriguing and useful insights. Thanks, in part, to the scientific evidence it provides and the charm of its down-to-earth, commonsensical tone, Mistakes Were Made is convincing. Reading it, we recognize the behavior of our leaders, our loved ones, and--if we''re honest--ourselves, and some of the more perplexing mysteries of human nature begin to seem a little clearer. By the book''s end, we''re far more attuned to the ways in which we avoid admitting our missteps, and intensely aware of how much our own (and everyone''s) lives would improve if we--and those who govern and lead us--understood the power and value of simply saying, ''I made a mistake. I''m sorry.''" (Francine Prose O Magazine)

"Tavris and Aronson have combined their formidable skills to produce a gleaming model of social insight and scientific engagement. Make no mistake, you need to read this book." (Robert B. Cialdiani)

"Written with the perfect combination of science and snap, this is a book that will change the way you think about self-deception--how it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it." (The General Psychologist)

"Anecdote-rich...a ramble through the evasive tactics we employ when we''ve done something wrong and don''t want to face up to it. "Mistakes Were Made" is by turns entertaining, illuminating and--when you recognize yourself in the stories it tells--mortifying. It is certainly true that we can be artful to the point of self-delusion when we feel guilt for something we have done." (Wall Street Journal)

"This book casts a bright and penetrating light on how and why nation-states, organizations, and individuals get into malignant messes. But it also shows how they (NOT us) cluelessly keep repeating these offensive, sometimes criminal acts. Tavris and Aronson don''t let any of us off the hook but they do teach us how to avoid hanging ourselves on that hook again and again. One of the most needed and important books for our time." (Warren Bennis)

From the Inside Flap

"Tavris and Aronson have combined their formidable skills to produce a gleaming model of social insight and scientific engagement. Make no mistake, you need to read this book." -- Robert B. Cialdini, author of Influence: Science and Practice

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?

In this terrifically insightful, engaging new book, renowned social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson take a compelling look into how the brain is wired for self-justification. When we make mistakes, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right— a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong. Backed by years of research, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers a fascinating explanation of self-deception—how it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it. Turn the page, but be advised: You will never be able to shun blame quite so casually again.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (May 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151010986
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151010981
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (273 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I have to admit: I read the book twice.
Ruby Bayan
If you’ve ever asked yourself “How can someone do something like that?” then this is a book you really need to read.
Michael Hynes
I found this book well written, with expert citation and very easy to read.
Robert J. Lorenzini

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

278 of 289 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Why do people refuse to admit mistakes - so deeply that they transform their own brains? They're not kidding themselves: they really believe what they have to believe to justify their original thought.

There are some pretty scary examples in this book. Psychologists who refuse to admit they'd bought into the false memory theories, causing enormous pain. Politicians. Authors. Doctors. Therapists. Alien abduction victims.

Most terrifying: The justice system operates this way. Once someone is accused of a crime - even under the most bizarre circumstances - the police believe he's guilty of something. Even when the DNA shows someone is innocent, or new evidence reveals the true perpetrator, they hesitate to let the accused person go free.

This book provides an enjoyable, accurate guide through contemporary social psychology. So many "obvious" myths are debunked as we learn the way memory really works and why revenge doesn't end long-term conflict.

Readers should pay special attention to the authors' discussion of the role of science in psychology, as compared to psychiatry, which is a branch of medicine. I must admit I was shocked to realize how few psychiatrists understand the concept of control groups and disconfirmation. Psychoanalysis in particular is not scientific. The authors stop short of comparing it to astrology or new age.

This book should be required reading for everyone, especially anyone who's in a position to make policy or influence the lives of others. But after reading Mistakes were Made, I suspect it won't do any good. Once we hold a position, say the authors, it's almost impossible to make a change.
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224 of 236 people found the following review helpful By Michael P. Maslanka on June 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Or so say Tavis and Aronson on how we lose our ethical grip---we make a small slip, say to ourselves it is not that bad, and our minds rationalize the next slip. From lunch with a lobbyist to a golf outing in Europe is not---when the mind puts its mind to it---that big a leap. Their discussion of confirmation bias, one of the worst breeders of bad decisions is outstanding and undertandable. And the chapter on how the police get the innocent to confess is chilling. There are all sorts of useful tips.Want to co-op an enemy? Get her to do a favor for you; her mind will say, "I do not do favors for jerks,and because I do not, he must not be that big a jerk." The mind can not hold two thoughts at once, so it bridges the dissonance. At 236 pages, the book is long enough to be worthwhile, but short enough to read on a vacation. Anyone interested in persuasion and how our minds work will find the read a useful one.
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Karen Franklin on August 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ready for a whirlwind tour through time and space, from the Crusades and the Holocaust to the war in Iraq, from recovered memories and the fallacies of clinical judgment to false confessions, wrongful convictions, and failed marriages? Then this is the book for you.

What ties these disparate topics together, according to tour guides Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, is the notion of "cognitive dissonance," which has been creeping into popular awareness in recent years. Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling created when you experience a conflict between your behavior and your beliefs, most specifically about who you are as a person. ("I'm a good person, I couldn't do this bad thing.") To reduce dissonance, people engage in a variety of cognitive maneuvers, including self-serving justifications and confirmation bias (paying attention to information that confirms our beliefs while discounting contrary data).

Tavris and Aronson, both top social psychologists and excellent writers to boot, make their point through the repeated use of a pyramid image. Two people can be standing at the top an imaginary pyramid and can undergo the same dissonance-inducing experience. Person A processes the experience accurately, which leads him down one side of the pyramid. Person B engages in a series of defensive maneuvers to reduce cognitive dissonance that eventually lands him at the opposite side of the pyramid. Once at these opposite poles, the two can no longer recognize their initial similarities, and see each other as unfathomable and even dangerous. A particularly compelling, real-life example is two men who experienced a terrifying episode of sleep paralysis in which they saw demons attacking them.
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Susan H. Evans on April 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This page-turning read takes you through the myriad ways in which a human urge toward self-justification warps personal lives and contaminates public discourse. The authors ask: "Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart?" They explain, with abundant examples. Even more important, they draw readers painlessly through the evidence about self-justification, much of it based on research into the contours of memory distortion.

No one escapes the authors' withering gaze: political leaders who lie to cover up, bosses who kick downward and kiss upward, marriage partners who whine.

A book about the defenses that people erect for bad decisions and hurtful acts might easily turn into an exercise in "bubba psychology", or giving folk wisdom the patina of scholarship. But Tavris and Aronson are much better than that. They are serious, renowned psychologists with a knack for telling arresting stories. They have an eye for counter-intuitive and revealing details. Each chapter tells you things you didn't know, or illuminates experiences you thought you understood, but come to see in a fresh light.

In short, you'll see a bit of yourself as well as others in Mistakes Were Made. You'll be thankful for its insights.
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