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Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)

Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
15-minute read
Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Through studies and anecdotes, these blinks explain why, when we make mistakes, we often come up with self-justifications instead of admitting the mistakes to ourselves. It also shows how detrimental these self-justifications can be to personal relationships, medicinal care, the justice system and even international relations.

  • Police officers, lawyers, judges, doctors, nurses, scientists and politicians
  • Anyone who wants to know why they don’t admit their own mistakes and how they can learn to admit them so as to reap the benefits
  • Anyone who wants to have healthier relationships, both romantic and otherwise

Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson are social psychologists and lecturers. Carol Tavris has authored or co-authored several books, including Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion and The Mismeasure of Women. Elliot Aronson has also authored and co-authored books such as The Social Animal and Nobody Left to Hate.

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Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)

Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
Synopsis

Through studies and anecdotes, these blinks explain why, when we make mistakes, we often come up with self-justifications instead of admitting the mistakes to ourselves. It also shows how detrimental these self-justifications can be to personal relationships, medicinal care, the justice system and even international relations.

Key idea 1 of 9

Instead of admitting our mistakes, we tend to justify them.

Everyone has done things they shouldn’t have. For example, have you ever munched down an entire family-sized pack of potato chips in one go? Chances are pretty good you have.

But, if you’re like most people, you probably told yourself that, actually, it was okay because, say, you’d had a hard week and fully deserved that little indulgence.

Most people do the same: they seek justifications for actions they know were wrong. That’s because they want to reduce feeling cognitive dissonance, or the unpleasant feeling of having two conflicting ideas in our heads.

In this case, if you consider yourself someone who adheres to a healthy diet, your overindulgence creates cognitive dissonance. To resolve the dissonance, you come up with a so-called self-justification (e.g., the rough work week) for your actions.

Another example of cognitive dissonance would be someone who bemoans the dangers of smoking while continuing to smoke themselves. To resolve the cognitive dissonance of the conflicting views and behavior, this person will probably come up with a self-justification like, “I really don’t smoke that much so the health effects are negligible.”

Unfortunately, these kinds of self-justifications can make us cling to our beliefs even more vehemently – not change our behavior.

For example, after making a mistake, we may find a self-justification for it rather than dealing with it head on and trying to understand why it happened.

One example can be seen in the invasion of Iraq. Even though the weapons of mass destruction that served as the justification of war were ultimately not found in Iraq, and the invasion of the country resulted in an increase of Islamic radicalism that the war was meant to diminish, U.S. president George W. Bush was still convinced that he had made the right decision to go to war. Undoubtedly, this was a way of resolving his cognitive dissonance.

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