Book Review: “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)”

A former student sent me a link to an article a few weeks ago, and there was a reference to “cognitive dissonance” in it. Since the term was new to me (not the idea) I did a bit of googling and ended up ordering this book:

“Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)”  by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson:

Cognitive dissonance is basically what happens to all of us more frequently than we think: we make a decision or claim to know something and later realise we were wrong. However, since you and I are intelligent human beings, we try to avoid admitting we’ve made a stupid mistake. Instead we start to justify that decision or statement in order to convince ourselves that we’re not so silly after all!

Let me give you a simple example: you stay in a posh hotel, and when packing to leave you slip in a sauna towel and pair of slippers with the hotel logo on…. You are an honest person, and have never stolen anything in your life… You tell yourself, “at these prices the towel and slippers should be included”, “I bet everyone does it”, “They won’t even miss them”. Great! You have managed to clear your conscience and convince yourself you’ve done nothing wrong…

The book gives some interesting examples and a really excellent insight to how the mind works, and how easy it is to deceive ourselves. I recognized myself at times! And it helped me understand how and why people appear to lie, forget the truth, or simply exaggerate.

Some of the best examples I found in the book were of well-known figures in politics or the media, and key witnesses or investigators of crimes… but I won’t give too much away.

It’s different, it’s varied and well-written, it’s keenly observed, it’s enlightening and fascinating.

It’s definitely worth the read!

2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)”

  1. I read this book a while ago and I enjoyed it, but I thought that the authors stretched it out too much by having far too many examples. The general principle of what Aronson talks about is fairly easy to understand and really didn’t need as many examples as they gave.

    Although I also took a Social Psych class, where the text that we used was written by Aronson, so I’d been introduced to the concept before I read this book, and that may be why I thought it went on too long.

    If you enjoyed this book, I’d highly suggest any of the books written by Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, & What the Dog Saw). Gladwell does an excellent job of describing different concepts from Social Psychology using real world examples that we can all relate to. I think Gladwell’s books are in some ways better than the Aronson book because Gladwell’s writing is much easier to read and the book is better structured for a casual reader. (Aronson is a brilliant Psychologist, but they aren’t always known for having the clearest writing.)

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