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Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts Paperback – 27 May 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Pinter & Martin Ltd. (27 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905177216
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905177219
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2.3 x 19.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 292,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


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

A brilliant new book. --The Times

Excellent. --The Guardian.

About the Author

Dr. Carol Tavris's work as a writer, teacher, and lecturer has been devoted to educating the public about psychological science. She has spoken to students, psychologists, mediators, lawyers, judges, physicians, business executives, and general audiences on, among other topics, self-justification; science and pseudoscience in psychology; gender and sexuality; critical thinking; and anger. In the legal arena, she has given many addresses and workshops to attorneys and judges on the difference between testimony based on good psychological science and that based on pseudoscience and subjective clinical opinion.

Elliot Aronson's primary research interests are in the general area of social influence. His experiments have been aimed both at testing theory and at improving the human condition by influencing people to change their dysfunctional attitudes and behavior (e.g., prejudice, bullying, wasting of water, energy and other environmental resources). Professor Aronson is the only psychologist ever to have won APA's highest awards in all three major academic categories: For distinguished writing (1973), for distinguished teaching (1980), and for distinguished research (1999). In 2002, he was listed among the 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th Century (APA Monitor, July/August, 2002). In 2007 he received the William James Award for Distinguished Research from APS.

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
IT'S FASCINATING, AND SOMETIMES funny, to read doomsday predictions, but it's even more fascinating to watch what happens to the reasoning of true believers when the prediction flops and the world keeps muddling along. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Orangutan on 19 Jun. 2008
Format: Paperback
I'm currently halfway through this book, and have to say it's one of the most interesting books I've read for a long time. It is absolutely jampacked full of references to psychology studies and examples from history which are illustrative of human nature.

The core of the book centres around the idea of cognitive dissonance, where the brain has to reconcile two contrasting viewpoints. For example the self belief that " I am rational and intelligent" with the action " I am slowly killing myself by smoking". The dissonance could be resolved by concluding that actually I am neither rational nor especially intelligent, but of course no one wants to conclude that! So instead I look for levers to reduce the gap in the other direction. Smoking helps me to relax, and stress is a big killer, smoking helps me to keep my weight down and obesity is a big health problem. And so on......

that idea in itself is not especially remarkable, but what is remarkable is the wealth of studies that investigate the impact of cognitive dissonance upon our day-to-day lives. Like for example how students who are made to conduct a rigorous initiation event prior to assessing the quality and usefulness of a recorded debate are far more likely to rate the debate as interesting and informative rather than students who are not required to go through such an initiation. The cognitive dissonance here is between the gap "I'm a rational and intelligent person" and "I've put myself through all this hard work to listen to this debate". Rather than conclude that we have wasted our time, which calls into question our intelligence, we instead resolve the dissonance by subconsciously overrating the usefulness or importance of what we have just listened to.

If this sparks your interest, then this book is for you. It is a fascinating insight into human nature and will help you understand both other people and more importantly yourself a lot better.
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44 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Dr. M. L. Poulter on 18 April 2009
Format: Paperback
For clear, engaging explanations of psychological research, this is one of the best books you can get. Cognitive biases are like optical illusions, distorting our decisions, memories and judgement. This book focuses in particular on self-directed biases: the distortions of memory and explanation that make sure that each of us is the hero, not the villain, or our own life story.

When corrupt police frame innocent people, how do they justify to themselves what they are doing? When a couple divorce, how can two former lovers come to hate each other with such passion? When political or military mistakes lead to thousands of deaths, how do the decision-makers live with themselves? The authors take academic research (on cognitive dissonance, stereotypes, obedience and more) and apply it to a wide spectrum of issues from the White House to Mel Gibson's racism.

It is eye-opening to read how malleable and unreliable memory is, and how easy it is to create feedback loops of increasing certainty from just a glimmer of evidence. An appalling example is the recovered memory craze of the 80s and 90s, which is discussed at length. The book isn't entirely downbeat, even though it explains how prosecutions, marriages or therapy sessions can go terribly wrong. It shows how easy it is for good people to hurt others, but that we can avoid these traps with humility and self-questioning. They call science "a form of arrogance control".

A theme running through the work of these two psychologists is how science can address real problems of human conflict. That warm, humane spirit pervades this book and I think anybody curious about the science or the solutions would benefit from reading it.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By J. Taylor on 19 April 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book partly on the strength of the other amazon reviews and was particularly pleased with it. Before reading it I noted this book was a 'straight read' with no illustrations, yet it was a gripping book from start to finish. The writing style was straight to the point and easy to read. The content was from wide ranging examples, yet always kept the thread of the main ideas.
I imagine this is a book that virtually everyone will find personally relevant. Whilst not written as another self help book, it certainly made me re-examine my own actions, as well as seeing faults in others. The last chapter was the unpatronising, uplifting icing on the cake (and I am not about to spoil it.)
People who enjoyed Stuart Sutherlands brilliant book 'Irrationality' will also love this one.
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64 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Mr. J. Hastings on 10 April 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is entertaining, informative and has a valuable message, but it is also seriously flawed.

Tavris and Aronson want to convince us of the truth of Festinger's theory of `Cognitive Dissonance' and the perils of self-justification. They emphasise that the theory has been scientifically validated, based on the results of studies that are methodologically sound, some of them controlled randomised trials (the `Gold Standard' of methodology in social psychological research). They warn us of the danger of `confirmation bias' - the process of giving due weight to evidence which confirms our ideas and playing down or dismissing evidence that disconfirms them (p 18).

The first flaw is that the whole book is an exercise in confirmation bias. Tavris and Aronson present only evidence which supports their theory. They do not name any social psychologist who disagrees with them; they do not present any scientific studies that disconfirm their theory; they do not even present any studies with neutral results (i.e. that neither confirm nor disconfirm their theory). This is in spite of the fact that they warn us of the need to be sceptical (p 105) and the need to actively search for disconfirming evidence, `The scientific method consists of the use of procedures designed to show not that our predictions and hypotheses are right, but that they might be wrong' (p 108).

The second flaw is that a substantial part of the book consists of anecdotes (true stories that illustrate the point being made). But, as social psychologists emphasising their scientific credentials, Tavris and Aronson must know that anecdotal evidence is the weakest form of evidence scientifically but the most effective in convincing us, their readers, to believe them.
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