Mistakes Were Made (but not by me: Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

I bought "Mistakes Were Made ..." for on a long plane ride, thinking that it would be a light, entertaining read. It did turn out to be very entertaining, but it also has affected the way I think about politics, law, ethics, and the teaching of science. One of steps in the constructivist approach to education is to create cognitive dissonance in the learner, for example with a demonstration involving a discrepant event. The strategy is to force the learner to consider a correct alternative to the explanation that already existed in his/her mind. Research shows that this is very difficult to do because the mind is very resistant to ideas that contradict previous positions. Look at the classic Annenberg video Minds of Our Own for examplesfrom science education. While the possibility of changing of ones' mind in light of new evidence is essential to the scientific process, it is not easy for any of us to admit errors or to change previous positions, especially if they have been made publicly. In "Mistakes Were Made", Carol Tavris and Elliott Aronson illuminate the ways in which cognitive dissonance impacts prosecutors who refuse to consider evidence that might exonerate suspects they have decided are guilty, spouses who carry grudges, followers of doomsday predictors (after "doomsday" has passed), and many other examples, including the current polarized political environment.

Publication information
Pick Attribution: 

Carol Tavris and Elliott Aronson

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, January 1, 2008