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Seriously, Read a Book!

Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

Currently reading

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Notetaking
Mike Rohde
The Antidote
Oliver Burkeman
The Kind Worth Killing
Peter Swanson
Data Points: Visualization That Means Something
Nathan Yau
James Buchanan
Jean H. Baker, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts - Carol Tavris, Elliot Aronson

"People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls." - C.G. Jung


"Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin." - Barbara Kingsolver


Neither of the quotes above were included in this book, but they speak to some of the ideas at its core. Anyone who has any social psychology, experimental methods course, and/or given cursory attention to the bevy of material out there about how the human mind and we, as people, work, will find a lot of familiar concepts in Mistakes Were Made. That is not to say, however, that it's not worth reading. 


The overarching principles being examined are those of cognitive dissonance and self-justification. And, before you get all defensive (get it?) these are normal and necessary facets of a human mind-brain (as Krieger might call it). I was going to go into this elaborate robot "does not compute" comparison to illustrate the nature of cognitive dissonance, but then I figured that I'd leave it to Lucille Bluth. 


Lucille Bluth Queen of Cognitive Consonance


Basically, the reasoning parts of our brain shut down when confronted with "dissonant" information, and the emotion circuits light up. "These mechanisms provide a neurological basis for the observation that once our minds are made up, it is hard to change them."


As Lucille points out, much of this occurs with respect to our sense of self as well as our need to find explanations for current problems are situations. Confirmation bias and confabulation are just two of the means by which we find evidence for what we're looking for, and causes that aren't there and there are plenty of great research and case studies (some of which is in this book) that illustrate these ideas.


These ubiquitous feats of mental gymnastic give rise to various appalling truths, one of which is best described by research psychologist John Kihlstrom.

"The weakness of the relationship between accuracy and confidence is one of the best-documented phenomena in the 100-year history of eyewitness memory research."

So, basically, the least accurate (in this case witnesses) tend to have the most confidence in their accuracy. And the implications of this aren't restricted to the courtroom. I'm not sure I love the choice of case studies of this phenomenon among professionals in this book (the recovered memory movement in therapy, and gross miscarriages of justice in, well, the justice system), as they undermine quotidian examples (we literally do this all day every day). However, the finding that was, to me, most chilling was that in these cases "training does not increase accuracy; it increases people's confidence in their accuracy."


So, in keeping with the spirit of the book, I have to acknowledge my own sequential bias, I've read a lot of other books that covered this material and because it was new to me then, I'm prejudiced to think it was more interesting in those books...so do with that what you will. 


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