Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson


This book proved very relevant to the times. When discussing politics and torture it was easy to think, “This is so us right now.” Like reading Strangers to Ourselves, it produces a weird feeling. Discovering a side of you that you have little direct control over is eerie.

The topic of the brain constructing narratives to align with the way we want to think of ourselves and the world has appeared in multiple books now that I’ve read. It is an incredibly interesting process.

This book is a whole different window to peer out at the world through. To see all the mistakes in criminal justice, science, medical, and political actions that can be accounted for by dissonance theory is frightening. It made me wonder how much I can trust my own thoughts, narratives, and actions. In a way, it rocked my reality. However, I am very glad that I read it as soon as I did.

Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent, such as smoking is a dumb thing to do because it could kill me and I smoke two packs a day. Dissonance produces mental discomfort

Pain of initiations and view of group
These findings do not mean that people enjoy painful experiences or that they enjoy things because they are associated with pain. What they do mean is that if a person voluntarily goes through a difficult or painful experience in order to attain some goal or object, that goal or object becomes more attractive.
The more time or money that goes into a decision will give your brain more reason to amplify the positive aspects of it. Say, buying an expensive car and the telling your friends how amazing it is
Michael Kahns experiment with students, taking blood pressure, catharsis, and then feeling of him after
Dissonance theory can work for you
When people do a good deed on a wim they will see a dissonant effect with seeing them in a negative light. Why would I do something nice for a bad guy?
How it works for low self esteem
“Indeed, several experiments find that most people who have low self-esteem or a low estimate of their abilities do feel uncomfortable with dissonant success and dismiss them as accidents or anamolies.”
108 forensic psychologists were looking at sex offenders to see if they would commit a crime again. Depending on who was funding the study they’re analysis’s changed
We all have blind spots
“Prejudices emerge from the disposition of the human mind to receive and process information in categories. Categories is a nicer, more neutral word then stereotypes, but it is the same thing.”
“we wisely rely on stereotypes and the quick information they give us to avoid danger, approach possible new friends, choose one school or job or another, or decide that that person across this crowded room will be the love of our lives.”
Blind spots get activated when we are angry, anxious, or threatened
“In the same way if we have enslaved members of another group, deprive them of decent education or jobs, kept them from encroaching on our professional turfs, or denied them their human rights, then we invoke stereotypes about them to justify our actions. By persuading ourselves that they are unworthy, unteachable, incompetent, inherently math challenge, immoral, sinful, stupid or even sub human, we avoid feeling guilty or unethical about how we treat them.”
People are full of shit
“Social psychologists Chris Crandall and Amy Eshelman, reviewing huge research literature, found that whenever people are emotionally depleted, when they are sleepy, frustrated, angry, anxious, drunk, or stressed they become more willing to express their real prejudices. When Mel Gibson was arrested for drunk driving and launch into an anti-semitic tirade, he claimed, and his inevitable statement of apology the next day, that “I said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said. . . I apologize for any behavior unbecoming of me in my inebriated state.” Translation: it wasn’t me, it was the booze. Nice try, but the evidence shows clearly that while inebriation makes it easier for people to reveal their prejudices, it doesn’t put those attitudes in their minds.”
Conway and Ross referred to the self-serving memory distortion as “getting what you want by revising what you had.” On the larger stage of life, many of us do just that: We misremember our history as being worse than it was, thus distorting our perception of how much we have improved so that will feel better about ourselves now.”
The benevolent dolphin example
The Central Park Five
Boys were in park during murder and rape, got questioned for 14-30 hours, Donald Trump took out 80k in ads to give them death penalty. They described how it happened but there was no hard evidence linking them to crime. Thirteen years later the actual felon confessed and his DNA matched. Followed by dissonance from NYC and Linda Reinstien
The ineffectiveness of Reid technique. What goes wrong when a suspect is immediately perceived as guilty. Troubles in law enforcement acceptance of mistakes and interrogations
“When we do something that hurts another, for example, we rarely say,” I behaved this way because I am a cruel and heartless human being.” We say, “I was provoked; anyone would do what I did” or “I had no choice” or “Yes, I said some awful things, but that wasn’t me-it’s because I was drunk.”
But when it’s a good thing we attribute that to a positive character attribute.
“Implicit theories have powerful consequences because they affect, among other things , how couples argue…”
Relationship free fall
contempt criticism laced with name calling or mocking is one of the strongest indicators that a relationship is in free fall.
“The tipping point at which couples start rewriting their love story, Gottman finds, is when the “magic rati dips below five to one: Successfulcouples have a ratio of five times as many positive interactions (such as expressions of love, affection, and humor) to negative ones (such as expressions of annoyance and complaints).”
Roy Baumesiter, 63 people, write stories where you were victim or perpetrator.
Not a he-said-she-said, everyone reported an experience of being on post sides. How do people construct narratives? Personality differences have nothing to do with it. When we construct narratives that make sense we do so in a self serving way. We try to produce the maximum consonance between what happened and how we see ourselves.
“I lied to him, but it was only to protect his feelings.”
“Yeah, I took that bracelet from my sister, but it was originally mine, anyway.”
“Couldn’t help it (myself)”
Normal people, do bad things
dehumanizing can be committed by ordinary individuals. Throughly documented findings in social psychology.
John Conroy found.. “..in his investigation of documented cases of abuse of prisoners, Conroy found that almost every military or police official he interviewed, whether British, South African, Israeli, or American, justified their practices by saying , in effect, “Our torture is never as severe and deadly as their torture”: South Africa, Argentine vs. Uruguayan, Americans vs. Vietnam, Britain vs. IRA, Israeli’s vs. Arab states
Torture and the CIA
“By the end of 2003, impartial investigations by the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch had revealed that American interrogators and their allies had been using sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation, waterboarding, sexual humiliation, induced hypothermia, beatings, other cruel methods on terroist suspects, not only at Abu Ghraib, but also at Guantanamo Bay and at “black sites” in other countries. In late 2014, a Senate Intelligence Committee report confirmed that the CIA’s use of tourture was more widespread and brutal than Congress or the public had been led to believe.” … “The first way is to say that if we do it,it isn’t torture. “we do not torture,” said George Bush in 2007, although he had ample evidence the previous year that we do.” … “Not torture said Cheney; those were approved techniques. (talking about confining prisons to small boxes, tying ones hand to ceiling while making them wear a diaper for 22 hours one day.)
The ticking time bomb. question
There’s a bomb in NY and you have a suspect that knows where it is. “If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it?” Yes, says Krauthammer, and not only are you permitted to, it’s your moral duty.”
    “Centuries of experience show that people will tell their tormenters what they want to hear, whether it’s confessing to witchcraft in Salem, admitting to counterreveolutionary tendencies  in Soviet Russia or concocting stories about Iraq and Al Quaeda.”
“The debate about torture has properly focused on it’s legality, its morality, and its utility. As social psychologists, we want add one additional concern; what torture does to the individual perpetrator and the ordinary citizens who go along with it. Most people want to believe that their government is working on their behalf that it knows what it’s doing, and that it’s doing the right thing. Therefore, if the government decides that torture is necessary in the war against terrorism, most citizens, to avoid dissonance, will agree. Yet, over time, that is how the moral conscience of a nation deteriorates. Once people take that first step off the pyramid in the direction of justifying abuse and torture, they are on their way to hardening their hearts and minds in ways that might never be undone. Uncritical patriotism, the kind that reduces the dissonance caused by information that their government—and especially their political party—has done something immoral and illegal, greases the slide down the pyramid.”
“In December of 2014, after the Senate Intelligence Report appeared, a national Pew survey found that 51 percent of all Americans still agreed that the CIA’s use of torture was justified and more than half still mistakenly believed that the CIA’s interrogation methods helped prevent terrorist attacks.
“Without a mutual acknowledgment of mistakes made, and some form of accountability, another reversion to torture may be difficult to prevent,” says political scientist Darius Rejali. “Nothing predicts future behavior as much as past impunity.”
[Senator John McCain, the use of torture] “..was shameful and unnecessary . . . But in the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason t oppose it’s use. I have often said, and will maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”
Two fundamental theories of dissonance theory
  1. the ability to reduce dissonance helps us in countless ways, preserving our beliefs, confidence, decisions, self-esteem, and well-being.
  2. this ability can get us into big trouble. People will pursue self-destructive courses of action to protect the wisdom of their initial decisions. They will treat those they have hurt even more harshly, because they convince themselves that their victims deserve it. They will cling to outdated and sometimes harmful procedures in their work. They will support torturers and tyrants who are on the right side—that is, theirs. People who are insecure in their religious beliefs may feel the impulse to silence and harass those who disagree with them, because the mere existence of those naysayers arouses the painful dissonance of doubt.


Psychologists Laura King and Joshua Hicks argue that maturity depends on the adults capacity to confront list goals, or lost possible selves, and acknowledge regrets and sorrows over roads not taken or dreams unfulfilled. “Lost possible selves,” they write, “represent the person’s memory of a self they would have pursued ‘if only’—…Reflecting on these lost expectations poses costs to happiness—in our terms, it generates painful dissonance—but, King and Hicks add, “that work, the articulation of what might have been, may have benefits in terms of the complexity of a person’s sensibility and, perhaps, the very meaning of happiness itself. That there is value in loss is more than a platitude. Although it may be a peculiarly American instinct to search for the positive in any negative event, we argue that the active, self-reflective struggle to see the silver lining is a key ingredient of maturity.”


“Those with the highest well-being, however, had been able to take what the researchers describe as “an unusually brutal perspective on a former self”: “Should I say I was an idiot?” said one woman…Yet she can not look back on the lost self with compassion, a younger self who can be excused for her naivete.”

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