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72 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an excellent book!
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...
Published on 19 Jun 2008 by Orangutan

versus
58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, informative but seriously flawed
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...
Published on 10 April 2011 by Mr. J. Hastings


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72 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an excellent book!, 19 Jun 2008
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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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping read for anyone interested in human nature, 18 April 2009
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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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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reality Check with a Positive Ending, 19 April 2009
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J. Taylor (Poole, UK) - See all my reviews
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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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Psychology can be entertaining, 5 July 2009
This book falls in the category of popular science. A challenge to write well, but the authors manage perfectly well. Cognitive dissonance theory is the main gate to understanding how and why people so easily practice self-justification, even when they obviously are in the wrong. The book gives examples from all of life's scenes, from marriage and friendship to professional activities, to crime and political practicies. It contains hard science, anectodes and interesting examples from all the above mentioned areas, and more. Both professional psychologists and peope without any connection to this fiels at all have a lot to learn from this book.
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58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, informative but seriously flawed, 10 April 2011
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. A single anecdote can outweigh a stack of scientific studies. To use one of the authors' own examples; Andrew Wakefield's `clinical report' of 1998 persuaded many parents of the risk that MMR vaccine could cause autism in spite of five scientific studies which found no causal relationship between autism and vaccination (pp 50-51 and 247-248). Thus the two authors are using unscientific evidence to convince us of a scientific theory. They must surely have experienced a good deal of cognitive dissonance as they were writing this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart, lucid, wide-ranging... fantastic!, 24 April 2011
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The front cover of a man painting himself into a corner makes this look like a cheesy self-help book, but it is nothing of the kind. Clearly written, well-researched and with an impressive range of subject matters, this is an excellent book into human nature, and a must-read for anyone interested in social psychology. I'm not sure the book has all the answers - the central position is that most awful human behaviour can be explained by 'cognitive dissonance' - but it is most certainly thought-provoking, and I've had cause to reflect on it many times since reading it. Highly recommended.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Social Psychology and the Human Mind, 11 July 2010
By 
Donald Scott (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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Mistakes Were Made (and not by me), has been written by two authors with backgrounds in social psychology and fuelled by a particular interest in cognitive dissonance, where the brain tries to reconcile two contrasting viewpoints-in an attempt to maintain a sense of overall personal integrity.

Exemplars of cognitive bias (do these ideas morph into propaganda?) are experienced as saying something but believing something else. You are given a gift by a friend which you really don't like (-he recognizes this hidden dislike under the out ward expression of, "oh, that's great-I've always wanted one of these...!" and both now are equally confused...) cognitive dissonance distorts our decisions, our beliefs, memories and judgments.

The authors focus on self-directed bias-the distortions of memory and explanation, making sure that each of us is fortunately always right in our opinions. Reading this material suggests that we should instinctively distrust those who try to convince us they're always right. There's something inherently puzzling and potentially dangerous about someone claiming absolute certainty, particularly when it comes to human nature. There's no place for the concept of absolute when describing human emotional life or behaviour, though it can be found happily residing in the physical sciences.

Experience tells us that if we listen carefully to those who profess certainty about their views of the world, there is certain baggage that travels with them. They intrinsically exhibit an excessively controlling personality distrusting their left hemisphere's powerful links to intuitive and social bonding skills. Conversely they may be impressed by the certainties promised by their right hemisphere dominance. They are drawn to logic, deductive and mathematical reasoning principals. They are probably deeply insecure under the surface-may I reconsider this please-they are most definitely deeply insecure under the surface.

The same logic applies to prejudice and bias. One man's certitude is another's propaganda. We ought to admit to both traits when they appear in our own reasoning. It's probably best just to laugh at yourself when exhibiting these characteristics, as they're irredeemably hardwired into our nervous system's matrix? It's human to show bias or preference to a degree. Certainly, they're frequently unhelpful and can be a block to deep insight, but they underpin necessary parts of our emotional and psychological development.

By definition you cannot see anything unless you exclude something else. That's the human part of the process of seeing and understanding that you see. You have to reject more than you take in, but perhaps by accepting this psychological fact, you let the sunshine in.

`The fact that an opinion has been widely held, is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.
Bertrand Russell, Mathematician & Philosopher (1872-1970)

Mistakes Were Made is an interesting read, with the authors examining the subject of intellectual reasoning and hypocrisy- when we delude ourselves by explaining why everyone else can be wrong in thought¬- but not ourselves. Every sort of person can be afflicted by this state-politicians, journalists, medical researchers-there's a comment that Danish investigators examined 159 clinical trials published in the British Medical Journal. This shows(P49) that if you compare studies that oblige the researchers to declare a conflict of interest, or otherwise, the published results indicate `significantly more positive results toward the experimental intervention' (ie the drug on trial compared to its competitor) This title should appeal to those who are interested in human psychology and people in general.

Thoroughly recommended reading, and for those that do enjoy this subject, then I can direct you to Kluge by Gary Marcus, which looks at the same subject but from a more anthropological viewpoint. The haphazard construction of our minds may show the inherent social value in deceit and the biochemistry of aggression. Consider why our brains don't epitomise a `perfectly evolved organ', which has been proposed by some. More of a work in progress.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, disturbing but too facile, 16 April 2013
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Most people have heard of Cognitive Dissonance - the experience of holding two conflicting beliefs at the same time, and the search for a way to reconcile them. This book is a good popular introduction to the subject, and also covers Confirmation Bias, which is what happens when we choose to believe or disbelieve evidence depending on what we think to be true, and whether it's consistent with opinions we have already expressed.
Although marketed as a kind of self-help book, and written in a breezy, anecdotal fashion, the book contains many cases that are deeply disturbing, and have major social and even political implications. You may have heard about the unreliability of eyewitness evidence, but you will be surprised to find just how useless and easily manipulated it is. Stories of police inventing or hiding evidence to convict those they had already decided to be guilty will not improve your opinion of the forces of law and order. And the discussion of cases of "recovered memory" where parents and teachers were sent to prison for abuse of children which the children "remembered" under hypnosis or drugs, is quite horrifying, especially when you realise that some of the "therapists" responsible have never apologised or retracted.
This is an American book, and so must include a compulsory discussion of how to overcome the problems described. But in practice, these problems seem to be very deeply rooted in the human psyche, and, even if we know that they exist in theory, it's not clear that we can - or would want - to avoid them in practice. The real issues raised are quite fundamental ones about, for example, how criminal justice systems work, and the book does not really explore them. It would also help if the authors had included a few more examples from outside the US - it would be interesting to know how, if at all, cultural factors affect psychological problems of this kind.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars help in coping with reality, 8 May 2011
I bought this book on recommendation when I was trying to tell someone about how difficult I found certain political beliefs and why people hang on to what I see as ridiculous ideas that can become downright dangerous. It explained a lot, very clearly though there were parts I found a bit repetitious. - a minor complaint. I read it through easily and found myself looking forward to the moments when I could pick it up again after putting it down for work and other duties.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this if you want to improve your decision-making, 2 May 2010
By 
J. Lawrence "ashhousebooks" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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If you make important decisions (and nearly everyone does), you may want to find out how to show that you've been good at it, that your decisions are justified, and that this makes you a good and valuable person. If so, you should avoid this book.

If, however, your main concern is to become a more successful decision-maker, and if you are willing to look at mistakes you have made for the sake of learning from them, you will value this book, which provides an excellent guide to learning and improvement. It focusses on one type of decision trap: that of avoiding important information that would help us make decisions because that information is dissonant - it contradicts important beliefs we hold, particularly those we hold about ourselves.

If this sounds dry, it is not - the book is written in an engaging and lively matter - to the point where every chapter will leave you with uncomfortable recognitions of your own behaviour. The reading does get easier as the arguments become more familiar and as you begin to apply them in your own decision-making and decision-review. The end of the book does an excellent job of bringing the strands of argument together and providing a guide to both avoiding the trap yourself, and dealing with others who have fallen into it.

There are many books on improving your ability to avoid decision traps of an impersonal type - overconfidence, lack of rigourous logic and hypothesis testing and so on - but they do not deal with the personal barriers to good decision-making. This is the first book I have read that explains how intelligent, well-meaning, well-educated people working in their area of expertise and aware of good decision theory can repeatedly make the same mistakes. Better still, it teaches all of us how to reflect on mistakes we have made objectively, and how to learn from them and become significantly better decision-makers.
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