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

Mistakes_were_made_cover_imageWell, this is definitely not the first book I’ve read, however, its the first of this type. Why did I choose this book you ask? Well I’ve always been interested in the mind and how it works, and I decided to get a couple books that may shed some light on the subject for me. I was immediately drawn to the title of this book. It gives the impression that all of us know that mistakes happen all the time, but that we refuse to believe that we could be participating in those same mistakes. Which clearly we all do, whether we want to believe it or not.

So on to the review. This was an easy read, and throughout the book I kept wanting to read more. It was well put together and explained this pretty easily. There were a very few instances in the book that I had to go back and reference something from an earlier chapter, which I didn’t mind at all. The authors sometimes touch upon the same thing many times. I get that trying explain something you might need some examples, but 3/4 of the way through the book, I think I got it. New ideas don’t need 4 examples to back them up. However with that being said, the examples were entertaining and very much based on real life. So yes, I was reading 3 examples that explained the same idea, but they were all different, interesting, and scaled examples. By scaled I mean example one may be between a husband and wife, example two may be between a certain presidential cabinet and the media, and the third might be between two different religions.

The best thing about this book is, as I read it, I kept thinking “yes, yes, that makes perfect sense”. There were some things in the book that I knew already, but not to the extent the authors delved into them. We all know we lie to ourselves. Its called justification. We all do it, and sometimes we even recognize it, but this book explains WHY we do it. The why is not just to make us feel better, well it is, but its more complicated than that. The book also goes on to many situations that are caused by justification.

The first chapter explains about cognitive dissonance, which is “a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent”. Every chapter after delves into what this dissonance means to a bunch of different real world topics (racism, memory, psychology, science, law, marriage, and wars). The book finishes up on how we ourselves can be aware of our own dissonance and try to remedy the problems.

Each chapter also led to questions/comments/concerns that I have with America (and the world in general, but mostly just America).

1) Science. There are many examples where people fail to keep science in mind. And I don’t mean formulas and equations, I mean the fact that science is all about garnering facts based upon experiments. One thing the book touched upon was false memories. Yea, I’m sure you remember America some years ago when therapists were finding out that bunches of children had repressed memories of being sexually molested as children. Turns out that traumatic memories are exactly that, memories. People don’t repress things. However, when asking leading questions to someone under hypnosis, many things can be “uncovered”.  Or even asking children who are not under hypnosis can cause false memories to be created. The book mentions a study where a bunch of preschoolers have a guest and a week later were questioned using the techniques used by interrogators in another case, next thing you know, half of the kids said yes to false allegations that were suggested to them. Not only were these statements not true, but many turned false memories. THAT’S science for ya.

2) The Law. Examples were brought up about how prosecutors and law enforcement can and often look at evidence that only supports their own theory. A section covered confessions and how police use a book titled “Criminal Interrogation and Confessions” that claims it has the most effective way of getting a confession. From the book “An interrogation is conducted only when the investigator is reasonably certain of the suspect’s guilt.”. So, if you go into an interrogation already believing the guilt of the party, and your trained to head off any denials and interpret anything done as evidence of lying (if they won’t look you in the eye, they are lying, but deny them eye contact….), then how can you honestly asses the guilt or innocence of someone? Scientific studies have shown that this method of interrogation gave no better accuracy (but close to 100% confidence of accuracy) than chance.

Overall I thought the book was great, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to be able to utilize new knowledge about justification in their every day life. I am definitely going to be posting some more of my concerns and comments, but since they are from the book, but not directly related to it, I will make a separate post. So… stay tuned!

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