Thursday, April 1, 2010

Justifying Ourselves

According to Carol Tavris, we all do it: justify our own behavior and beliefs, even when they don't quite add up.  As she explains, and as her book, Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), co-authored with Elliot Aronson, shows, we all feel cognitive dissonance when our beliefs, especially things we believe about ourselves, don't quite fit with clear realities.  She cites examples ranging from how some people justify continuing to smoke despite significant evidence that it's unhealthy to the responses of cult members to the failure of the world to end according to their predictions to the way hazing increases members' commitment to their fraternities and sororities.  We can see these phenomena, and no doubt notice our own experiences with it, every day.

I appreciate two things about Tavris's work.  The first is that she talks about the findings of psychological research in very accessible, down-to-earth ways.  Translating scientific research and theory into plain language isn't always easy, much less making the ideas seem both compelling and useful.  Second, I like how research like this invites us to connect our own experiences with psychological patterns that are common to many people and to link science with ethics.  So often, we think of these varied aspects of life as being entirely separate, and this work reminds us that everything is intertwined. 

No comments: