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 and engaging audiobook, renowned social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson take a compelling look at 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. Be advised: You will never be able to shun blame quite so casually again.
But the book left a bad taste in my mouth as it lost focus completely. The authors jumped the tracks and began using the findings on how humans behave and think to explain nation-state behavior! I couldn't believe it. Tavris must be in her 60's at least, has PhD, worked at Psychology Today for years, written many books ... she knows better than this. Unless there's senility setting in.
If you're a French person whose entire family has been killed by Germans, or a Korean person whose family was killed and tortured for generations by the Japanese ... when you find yourself in the others' midst, it's unlikely you'll behave very well. Funny thing is, if that same individual is part of a government, she may well build bridges to the former enemy. Single persons rarely make state policy. Deep personal animosity can be put aside for the moment because the future of the state and its people has to take priority. There are all sorts of U.S. policymakers that could illustrate this point: Kissinger, Albright, foreign-born military leaders.
Then the book veered off into another weird tangent in admiration of Japanese education. We're told an absurd anecdote about a Japanese kid being given time to work out a math problem on his own in comparison with the more rote quality of US education. Or course, she's reversed the nationalities.
The stepped-up reliance on testing in the US--tests as the end all and be all--is very much the Japanese style of education. Could very well be the emphasis was imported from Japan. If you only teach to the test, test scores will improve ... it's just that everyone else, anything that can't be tested, falls by the wayside.
Meanwhile, Japanese wring their hands about how their system must foster more individuality and creativity if they're ever to have a Silicon Valley.
Some of Tavris and Aronson's conclusions about Japan were drawn from superficial studies done by people like xxx Stevenson back in the 1980's. They even go off on one of their tears based on an "epiphany" that Stevenson had watching a Japanese kid at a blackboard. Aren't social scientists supposed to rely on evidence other then epiphanies? Especially when the presence of a foreign observer in a classroom can affect the normal routine?
How could they remain so ignorant of all the real-life books written since then Americans and others that lived in Japan? Like by people with kids in Japanese schools. James Fallows. Karl van Whats-his-name. Sure, Japan hasn't been any country's role model since the late 1980's. But if you're going to bring up such a weird comparison, wouldn't you check to see what has been published since then?
They also mentioned a Chinese (Taiwan) study and then leap to some conclusion about "most Asians"! Most Asians believing that abilities are innate and Americans think whatever.
Of course the real striking differences on this question are along developed vs developed country lines. People in the latter tend to think that with a half decent education to start off, abilities will shine through. In developing countries, people--well, of the lower- and middle-classes, that is--tend to believe a lot more is in the hands of fate. So why even try? Or try to marry a richer man. Hook up with a godfather. And they're right because unless you've got some money or connections, you're not going to get into that private kindergarten or elementary school that gets you along the way. Even tho it's a semi-developed country, Hong Kongers tend to think that way; less so for Singaporean Chinese and Taiwanese. I think this probably has to do with the atrocious public schools in HK. If you only get that far, your fate is pretty much sealed very early on.
This is just crammed with information, stories and studies. Overwhelming at times as you need to
My takeaways: Admit your mistakes. Learn why you did it and move on. intelligence is not inherited, you have to work at it. Teaching children that it is okay and desirable to make mistakes and learn from them is a major way to help them grow and live happier lives.
My favorite part of this book was the section that talked about how prosecuters and police men are reluctant to retract their opinion of a suspect's culpability even in the face of exonerating evidence. Also, the section on the interaction between couples was quite interesting and changed my view of the dynamics of romantic relationships.
Overall an eye-opener of a book that'll change your self-concept and how you view others. Worth it to read.
If you understand the theory from the first and get tired of the examples, you are safe to skim the majority of the book, only really needing chapters 1, 7, and 8. It is an interesting read nonetheless.
I would recommend this to anyone who hasn't previously studied cognitive dissonance. The examples were interesting. And despite what some other
The book discusses the influence of self-justification on public mistakes, investments, relationships, politics and the law. It shows the problem of using correlation as causation, a technique that is helpful after the fact to help us justify bad things we do. Unfortunately, the data shows the opposite, that the mistakes we make lead us to find correlations that would cause us to do such things, reducing the cognitive dissonance we have when we know we are doing something wrong.
Overall, a data-supported and thoughtful analysis of The Emperor's New Clothes, and the negative effects in our lives of self-justification over admission of mistakes, learning and growth.
A book for all skeptics.
good light read about the nuts and bolts of hypocrisy mostly through those curious tests we read about in the filler parts of the newspaper. Repressed memory chapter very interesting.
The main thing I learned from this
In plain language you can
The way people operate every day affects us all. Don't believe it? Read this book. If you've ever been blamed for something you didn't do, treated unfairly in any respect, or puzzled over how things could go so wrong, this book may help you understand how truly scary the behavior of perfectly "normal" people can be. Yes, normal. We're not talking about deviants or mental illness here. Normal people with normal jobs. The information within these pages may help you one day.
There's a lot to
Tavris and Aronson affect a breezy, colloquial style in their writing. They are quite willing to call out hypocrisy and foolishness. But they substantiate their judgements with substantial appeal to the scientific literature. (There are forty pages of endnotes.) The result is a book that is highly readable but also remarkably grounded in supporting scientific research.
So pervasive is the practice of self-justification in the face of cognitive dissonance that the reader can easily despair. How can we possibly overcome this pervasive distortion of reality? And indeed, instances of people in authority admitting to making mistakes are so rare that only a tiny portion of the book canvases them. Nonetheless, the authors do provide some general guidance as to how we might work against our potential for self-justification at least in our own lives. Like me, you might wish for more. However, the larger task of opening readers’ eyes to what is going on around them is most assuredly accomplished.
In short, if you want to become a better person than you were last year, or you just want to understand some of the sources of human irritation, get this book. It is also very well written.