Book: Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)
Author: Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two ideas that are psychologically inconsistent. It produces mental discomfort so our brain finds ways to reduce it.
The more we commit to something (especially things we deem important or irreversible), the more mental gymnastics we’ll do to avoid admitting we were wrong.
Once a decision has been made we’ll do what we need to bolster it, including evangelising it to others. Often, the best time to get good information on a topic is to ask someone researching a decision before they have committed to it.
Violent or aggressive acts aren’t a good form of venting, they set the stage for justifying more violence or aggression.
If we do a good deed for someone we don’t like, we can use our CD behavior to get into the mental state of “If they were such a jerk, I wouldn’t have done this for them, therefore they must be ok.”
You can use this in reverse to ask favors of people who don’t like you.
Experts in fields often have no better than a 50/50 chance of prediction, and CD can be extreme for them because of this.
People with low self esteem also suffer from CD interpreting actions of other people or results of their efforts to show why they don’t have value.
The Pyramid of Choice
Once we’ve made a choice we go down the path of justifying it, often ending up very far away mentally from someone who made the opposite choice.
We all have prejudice blind spots of which we’re not aware.
Often we start making small choices that lead to larger ones and get further away from our initial belief leading us to eventually do something we never would have done initially. Example: Lunch with lobbyist, local golf game with lobbyist, trip to St. Andrews for golf game with lobbyist.
Scientists used to be funded with public money and most research didn’t have patients associated with it (Polio vaccine) but little by little we’ve evolved into a world where most scientific research is privately funded. Results in very minor and questionable improvements.
Lots of privately funded research yields results that are not consistent with unbiased research in terms of safety or effectiveness of products.
Big Pharma spends lots of money on small gifts to doctors offices because it’s been shown to work. Even these small gifts cause doctors to recommend their medications more often.
We invoke stereotypes to justify behavior that would otherwise make us feel bad about the kind of person we are or the kind of country we live in.
Being stressed, frustrated, or tired makes people more likely to express their prejudices.
It’s important to have people in our lives that are willing to puncture our bubbles of self-justification and point out our blind spots.
We rewrite over our own memories to self justify actions or events that happened in the past to make ourselves more favorable
Memory is not like pulling files from a hard drive it is like reconstructing a movie from several still frames and your brain fills in the details at the time of reconstruction. Often it will fill in details that fit your current model of the world and who you are.
We hear stories of people saved by Dolphins nudging them to safety. But we never hear stories of Dolphins nudging people out to sea, because those people die and the story is never hear. So much data we use suffers from this problem.
The criminal justice system is full of CD and many aspects of it reinforce self justification. Cops plant evidence because they’re sure someone is guilty and don’t want them to get off because they couldn’t find evidence. Prosecutors spend an enormous amount of time and energy creating a case against someone and then can’t imagine a world where the person is innocent, even if DNA evidence proves otherwise.
Interrogations use techniques to extract guilt even from innocent people, relying on methods such as lying to innocent people to trigger their own CD.
Americans who live in the North learn about the Civil War as a matter of ancient history in which our brave Union troops forced the South to abandon the ugly institution of slavery and defeated the traitorous Confederates. But most white Southerners tell a different story where the brave Confederate troops were victims of greedy crude Northerners, destroyed our cities and traditions, and are still trying to destroy our state’s rights.
People long to hear “I screwed up. I will do my best to ensure it will not happen again”
Try to look at your own actions critically and dispassionately as if you were observing someone else.
When a friend makes a mistake, the friend remains a friend and the mistake remains a mistake.
Americans tend to think that mistakes mean stupidity.But we need to treat them as a natural part of learning. The more we identify as having “natural ability” at something, the more we are terrified of making mistakes in it.
When I, a decent smart person, make a mistake, I remain a decent smart person and the mistake remains a mistake. I made a mistake, I need to understand what went wrong. I don’t want to make the same mistake again.