INTERVIEW WITH NOTED SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGIST, CAROL TAVRIS, Ph.D.
We had a wonderful interview with Carol Tavris, Ph.D. on Friday, November
TO RECEIVE THE RECORDING, fill out the form below.
You'll also receive a complimentary subscription to
Ben's monthly email newsletter, The Coaching Toward Happiness News.
And please know your email address is safe with us.
We will not share or sell your email address or personal information
to any person, organization, or third party.
ABOUT CAROL TAVRIS, Ph.D.
Tavris is a social psychologist, writer, and lecturer. She earned her
Ph.D. in social psychology at the University of Michigan, after majoring
in both sociology and comparative literature as an undergraduate at
Brandeis University. In her career as a writer and lecturer, she has
sought to educate the public about the important contributions of psychological
science and to explain how pseudoscience can lead us astray at best
and, at worst, cause enormous personal and social harm.
Her latest book, with Elliot Aronson, is Mistakes
Were Made (But Not by Me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions,
and hurtful acts,
which has been translated into 11 foreign languages.
Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) examines:
Why we (and our clients) have so much trouble accepting information
that conflicts with a belief we "know for sure" is right.
The brain's "blind spots" that make us unable to see
our own prejudices, biases, corrupting influences, and hypocrisies.
Why our memories tell more about what we believe now than what
really happened then.
How couples can break out of the spiral of blame and defensiveness.
The evil that men and women can do in the name of God, country,
and justice -- and why they don't see their actions as evil at all.
Why random acts of kindness create a "virtuous cycle"
that perpetuates itself.
other best-known books include the landmark Anger:
The misunderstood emotion and the award winning The
Mismeasure of Woman: Why women are not the better sex, the inferior
sex, or the opposite sex. And, with Carole Wade, she has published
two textbooks in introductory psychology.
Dr. Tavris has written hundreds of articles, essays, and book reviews
on topics in psychological science for a wide array of publications,
including The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times Book Review, Scientific
American, and the (London) Times Literary Supplement. Many of these
have been recently collected in a reader, Psychobabble
and Biobunk: Using psychological science to think critically about popular
An acclaimed lecturer, she regularly addresses general and professional
audiences around the world--including attorneys, judges, physicians,
psychologists, business leaders, and students--on many topics having
to do with psychological research, including the difference between
science and pseudoscience in psychology. She is a Fellow of the American
Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science,
and on the editorial board of Psychological Science in the Public Interest.
She lives in Los Angeles.
Were Made (But Not by Me)
"This book is charming and delightful. But mostly, it's just
--Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
One of Amazon's Best Business Books of 2008
Amazon five-star review,
January 10, 2010
By David Larson "Dave"
(Philadelphia, PA) -
This book is amazing because as you read it you go through three distinct
stages of understanding.
Stage 1 (50 pages in)
You say to yourself: "Wow, I know quite a few people who are making
the mistakes described in this book."
Stage 2 (halfway through)
You say to yourself: "Wow, EVERY single person I know is making
the mistakes described in this book."
Stage 3 (by the time you finish the book)
You say to yourself: "Wow, I myself have been making the mistakes
described in this book, and I didn't even realize it."
June 3, 2009
Review by Martin Poulter
For clear, engaging explanations of psychological research, this is
one of the best books you can get. Cognitive biases are like optical
illusions, distorting our decisions, memories and judgement. This book
focuses in particular on self-directed biases: the distortions of memory
and explanation that make sure that each of us is the hero, not the
villain, or our own life story.
When corrupt police frame innocent people, how do they justify to themselves
what they are doing? When a couple divorce, how can two former lovers
come to hate each other with such passion? When political or military
mistakes lead to thousands of deaths, how do the decision-makers live
with themselves? The authors take academic research (on cognitive dissonance,
stereotypes, obedience and more) and apply it to a wide spectrum of
issues from the White House to Mel Gibson's racism.
It is eye-opening to read how malleable and unreliable memory is, and
how easy it is to create feedback loops of increasing certainty from
just a glimmer of evidence. An appalling example is the recovered memory
craze of the 80s and 90s, which is discussed at length. The book isn't
entirely downbeat, even though it explains how prosecutions, marriages
or therapy sessions can go terribly wrong. It shows how easy it is for
good people to hurt others, but that we can avoid these traps with humility
and self-questioning. They call science "a form of arrogance control".
A theme running through the work of these two psychologists is how science
can address real problems of human conflict. That warm, humane spirit
pervades this book and I think anybody curious about the science or
the solutions would benefit from reading it.
Review by Francine Prose
A revelatory study of how lovers, lawyers, doctors, politicians--and
all of us--pull the wool over our own eyes. The politician who can't
apologize, the torturer who feels no guilt, the co-worker who'll say
anything to win an argument--in case you've ever wondered how such people
can sleep at night, a new book by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson supplies
some intriguing and useful insights. Thanks, in part, to the scientific
evidence it provides and the charm of its down-to-earth, commonsensical
tone, Mistakes Were Made is convincing. Reading it, we recognize
the behavior of our leaders, our loved ones, and--if we're honest--ourselves,
and some of the more perplexing mysteries of human nature begin to seem
a little clearer. By the book's end, we're far more attuned to the ways
in which we avoid admitting our missteps, and intensely aware of how
much our own (and everyone's) lives would improve if we, and those who
govern and lead us, understood the power and value of simply saying,
"I made a mistake. I'm sorry."
Wrighterly.com: January 2009
Review by Stephanie Wright
Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) is a book about self-justification,
the sort of rationalizing in which everyday folk engage to feel better
about the poor decisions they make on an everyday basis, but it is also
a book that helps illuminate the self-justification of the not-so-everyday
folk and the much larger poor decisions often made by people in positions
of power. Tavris and Aronson, two social psychologists, do not simply
write about self-justifying phenomena; they explain to the reader the
whys of them.
This is perhaps the best book on a psychological topic written for
the lay audience that I have read. In eight chapters (not including
Tavris and Aronson's introduction and afterword), the authors explain
their underlying tenet-cognitive dissonance--and then take the reader
through a series of real life applications of the need to self-justify
and the places in our lives we do it most frequently. Particularly relevant
to the general reader are the chapters on therapy (Chapter 4), which
my Research Methods class will be reading this upcoming semester; the
law (Chapter 5), which my Psychology and Law class will be reading this
upcoming semester; and marriage (Chapter 6), although all chapters have
much to offer everyone. For the rest of the review, click
Wall Street Journal:
Mistakes Were Made is by turns entertaining, illuminating and--when
you recognize yourself in the stories it tells--mortifying. It is certainly
true that we can be artful to the point of self-delusion when we feel
guilt for something we have done.
Business Week Online:
This book should make it to the top of most summer reading lists. It
speaks to the forces that keep us repeating harmful mistakes, whether
it's an everyday personal issue or an organization-wide problem. I'm
interested in reading this book for a deeper window into my own behavior,
but also for insight into the reasons that corruption persists around
the world and vexes so many organizational and individual efforts to
Arkansas Democrat Gazette:
Social psychologists Tavris and Aronson, each of whom has published
other works, here tackle "the inner workings of self-justification,"
the mental gymnastics that allow us to bemoan the mote in our brother's
eye while remaining blissfully unaware of the beam in our own. Their
prose is lively, their research is admirable and their examples of our
arrogant follies are entertaining and instructive. For the full review,
I've always been a night owl. Even as a child and teenager I often went
to bed late, much to my father's frustration. He was fully convinced
that I was damaging my health because of it. One time my dad took me
to the doctor because I had the flu. At the doctor's office my dad commented
about my habit of going to bed late, which to him obviously contributed
to my illness. The doctor explained that as long as I got enough sleep,
staying up late isn't really a big deal, and had nothing to do with
me being sick. You can imagine the smirk on my face after the doctor
left the room. After a moment of silence, my dad remarked, "Oh,
what does he know anyway?"
Why would my father, who never studied medicine, stubbornly conclude
that he still knew more about human health than someone who has spent
decades in that profession? Social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot
Aronson argue that it's due to cognitive dissonance, a psychological
term describing the internal conflict that ensues when someone holds
two polarizing beliefs, or when that person's behavior goes against
a particular belief. In their book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by
Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts,
the authors explore people's strong need for self-justification and
the sometimes serious consequences. For the rest of the review, click
Metapsychology Online Reviews:
Review by Daniele Procida, Cardiff University
July 31, 2007
"Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson have made a genuinely illuminating
contribution to the study of human nature, one positively brimming with
intelligence and insight . . . They are to be congratulated for this
immensely engaging and intelligent volume, for shedding some illumination
on that dark side of human behavior when it starts to go wrong and then
gets horribly worse."
There is a vast body of literature on how to do well, how to be happy,
what to do and choose for one's own benefit and that of others. This
body covers a range from the vulgar to the great moral philosophers.
We are not short of such analyses or guidance.
In contrast, the body of work which considers our failure to do well
and be good is decidedly smaller, and also, it must be said, rather
lamer, particularly in its power to explain why we fall into foolish
beliefs, make bad decisions and commit hurtful acts. We remain opaque
to others and to ourselves, thinking, acting and responding in ways
which are harmful, counter-productive and baffling. Most baffling of
all is our propensity to continue in these patterns, to compound error
with error and throw good vigorously after bad.
Attempts at explanation tend towards exasperated (and inadequate)
conclusions of egoism, stupidity or evil, or contentious structures
of historical, social or psychological theory to provide some sort of
answer. Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers an alternative to
these by describing the workings of a simple process, one which by its
nature is hidden from our view. This process is self-justification,
and it is driven by an engine of cognitive dissonance, the discomfort
we feel at the gap between our self-image and the less attractive reality
that sometimes confronts us. For the rest of this review, click
William B. Swann, Jr., University of Texas, Austin
There are at least two kinds of deceptive statements. The more common
and familiar type ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman")
is made willfully, with the goal of misleading listeners into believing
something that the deceiver knows to be untrue. The second sort ("They're
trying to say 'Did you make a mistake going into Iraq?' And the answer
is 'Absolutely not.'") is made when the speaker has persuaded himself
that something false is actually true. In Mistakes Were Made (But
Not by Me), authors Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson focus on this
latter category, which involves self-deception.
The authors make a compelling case that self-justifications of this
sort are especially pernicious, because they allow the person making
them to feel better while remaining unaware of what is happening. Thus
emboldened, he or she will not only fail to take corrective action but
will be prone to make additional mistakes, be untruthful about them
and so on. Even if this individual is not the leader of the free world,
the results can be catastrophic. For the rest of this review, click
I thought I knew all about self-justification, but no, my understanding
didn't begin to account for the 90% of that iceberg, submerged and out
This is a fascinating book, and the authors take the reader through
example after example, study after study. Why would a prosecuting attorney
refuse to change his opinion after DNA proved that the accused was not
guilty? Why can't psychologists, doctors, police, politicians, husbands,
wives, teachers, students, bosses, employees admit they made mistakes?
What procedures and strategies are at work? The authors reveal the process,
revealing how easy it is to compound and magnify our errors because
we are so busy justifying our decisions.
Sometimes floored, sometimes angry, sometimes sad, sometimes amused,
but always interested, I can only hope that I will be able to apply
some of what I learned in my own life.
curled up with a good book.com:
Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson's book bears a very prescient message:
Just how does one learn from one's mistakes if one refuses to admit
culpability? With straightforward language and a readable style, Tavris
and Aronson's book will open your eyes and improve your life--that is,
it will if you let it.
Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books
By Kathleen E. Cook and Melissa Grinley
February 7, 2008
Both Carol Tavris (The Mismeasure of Woman) and Elliot Aronson
(The Social Animal) have demonstrated a flare for writing clearly
and passionately about social psychology. Together these accomplished
authors and highly respected psychologists have produced this informative
and eminently readable book. The book is written for the general public
but can be appreciated by the psychologist and nonpsychologist alike.
It would also make an effective undergraduate class supplement. It is
filled with wonderfully vivid examples and amazingly appropriate quotes.
The evenhandedness with which the authors treat self-justifiers is one
of the book's strengths. The perspectives of both the therapist and
the client, the detective and the false confessor, the husband and the
wife, and so on, are examined. Rather than painting a picture of the
self-righteous as evil, the authors show us how these individuals have
painted themselves into a corner and how their obstinate position is
an understandable and very human one.