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Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts Paperback – March, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 346 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

PRAISE FOR MISTAKES WERE MADE (BUT NOT BY ME)

 

"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."—Francine Prose, O, The Oprah Magazine

"By turns entertaining, illuminating and—when you recognize yourself in the stories it tells—mortifying."—The Wall Street Journal

Book Description

Mariner paperback, 2008; previous ISBN 978-0-156-03390-9
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (March 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156033909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156033909
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (346 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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