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Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)

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Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)

Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

Mariner Books,

15 min read
7 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Everyone makes mistakes – so why is it so hard to admit it?

Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Well Structured
  • Engaging


No one’s perfect. At some point you, like everyone else in the world, will make an error of deed or judgment. So why – even when the evidence of a mistake confronts them – do people find it so difficult to admit they are wrong? In this fascinating study, social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson explore the reasons underlying human beings’ resistance to admitting fault, and the lengths most people will go to justify their flawed actions or beliefs. The authors offer a wealth of illuminating examples, plus suggestions on how to overcome the desire to deny mistakes rather than learn from them.


The desire to avoid cognitive dissonance drives people to find justification for their actions and beliefs.

Most people find it difficult to admit when an action they take or a belief they hold causes harm or is just plain dumb. Why do people waste time justifying a poor decision or a faulty idea instead of learning from it and moving past their error?

When it comes to such behavior, politicians may be the easiest examples. However, the hypocrisy of world leaders is substantively no different from the self-justification you engage in if, for example, you “forget” to report cash income on your income taxes.

With enough time, your memory will lend a hand, helping you “remember” alternate versions of past events to provide you with a story that backs up the moral stance you wish to take. Self-justification can be a survival mechanism that protects your self-esteem and preserves an affiliation you want to keep. But self-justification also prolongs conflicts and prevents course corrections.

Avoiding cognitive dissonance – holding two incompatible ideas or beliefs – drives people toward self...

About the Authors

Social psychologist, writer and lecturer Carol Tavris is a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities. Social psychologist Elliot Aronson is professor emeritus at the University of California at Santa Cruz and a distinguished visiting professor at Stanford University.

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