“Mistakes were made (but not by me)”: Part 2

This book can be purchased at: http://www.amazon.ca/Mistakes-Were-Made-But-Not/dp/0156033909

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 9.10.00 AMToday we are going to look at Chapter 1, “Cognitive Dissonance: The Engine of Self-justification.”

So what is “Cognitive Dissonance” ? The authors define it as:

Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent, such as “Smoking is a dumb thing to do because it could kill me” and “I smoke two packs a day”

In this example, the most direct way for a smoker to reduce dissonance is by quitting. But if she has tried and failed, now she must reduce dissonance by convincing herself that smoking isn’t really so harmful, or that smoking is worth the risk because it helps her relax and prevents her from gaining weight.

If we look back on Ibrahim’s book “Weeding out the Wankers”, we saw some of this behaviour. When an organization or people within an organization decide that a change is necessary, they often justify that change to themselves by saying that a person is “Difficult to work with.” Ibrahim suggests that this is rarely the case, just a convenient justification.

The authors here are suggesting that in order to justify their actions and avoid Cognitive Dissonance, the managers are compelled to make up a story.

The authors explain that up until Cognitive Dissonance was proposed in the 1950’s, behaviorists views were that behavior was governed by rewards and punishment. Most parents know that if you give a child a cookie because they are acting badly, what you actually just taught your child is that the way to get a cookie is to act badly. People do react to rewards and punishment, but people also react to Cognitive Dissonance.

The authors note that:

“Elliot predicted that if people go through a great deal of pain, discomfort, effort. or embarrassment to get something, they will be happier with that something than if it came to them easily. For behaviorists, this was a preposterous prediction. Why would people like anything associated with pain?”

Many studies are outlined in the book, but most of us have seen this in action. To get a black belt in Taekwondo, applicants have to pass a physical, mental and skills test. Schools compare themselves based on the difficulty of the test. New students want to attend the school with the harder test because the students there are more confident and have more school spirit. People appreciate wins that were hard fought.

I will continue to expand on the concepts in Chapter one in my next post, but I leave you with one closing observation. The author suggest that as a race we believe that we process information logically. Cognitive Dissonance would tend to suggest that this is not true. We process information that agrees with our beliefs. More on this next time.

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One Response to “Mistakes were made (but not by me)”: Part 2

  1. Mojtaba says:

    There is an emerging attitude to irrationality within economics (e.g. Kahneman) that challenges the notion that people make rational decisions to benefit themselves. They seem to suggest that in many circumstances we make irrational decisions (and then I suppose use some justification to rationalize it!)

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