The book's focus is to show how cognitive dissonance works in every day life. Of course, we've all probably heard of the term of cognitive dissonance but I doubt many people realize that we all, every last one of us, suffer from it each and every day. OK, that sounds a little too ominous but in reality in our day-to-day lives dissonance is a necessary part of our sanity. However, for the larger, non-trivial decisions in our lives dissonance can cause us to make and continue to make irrational decisions, bend over backwards in self-justification, and even alter our memory of events.
But more than that, dissonance theory has also disproven many commonly held beliefs regarding human nature and psychology. For instance, we've all heard that people can go beat a stick against a rock or embark on some other act of aggression to tame their anger. Not so. It doesn't work:
Actually, decades of experimental research have found exactly the opposite: that when people vent their feelings aggressively they often feel worse, pump up their blood pressure, and make themselves even angrier.But that just scratches the surface. Dissonance theory has been the basis for disproving the myth of repressive memories that was the foundation in many of the outrageous convictions of daycare workers for child molestation in the 90's:
Overwhelmingly, the evidence shows just the opposite. The problem for most people who have suffered traumatic experiences is not that they forget them but that they cannot forget them: The memories keep intruding.And even helps to show that the modern methods police use for seeking confessions are highly likely to elicit false confessions from the innocent while simultaneously convincing the police interviewers that they are getting an accurate accounting. And it is the need to reduce dissonance that prevents many prosecutors from re-opeing cases even in light of exonerating evidence:
Of all the convictions the Innocence Project has succeeded in overturning so far, there is not a single instance in which the police later tried to find the actual perpetrator of the crime. The police and prosecutors just close the books on the case completely, as if to obliterate its silent accusation of the mistake they made.And there's more. So as you can see, this is not just another pop-psy book. It is well written, well researched, and well put together. I highly recommend it.
Other selected quotes from the book:
"In the final analysis, the test of a nation's character, and of an individual's integrity, does not depend on being error free. It depends on what we do after making the error."
"A stereotype might bend or even shatter under the weight of disconfirming information, but the hallmark of prejudice is that it is impervious to reason, experience, and counterexample."
"If a memory is a central part of your identity, a self-serving distortion is even more likely."
Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts