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Space Telescope Science Institute
Hard Science/Soft Skills

Carol Tavris

Mistakes Were Made—But Not by ME: Self-justification in Everyday Life

  Carol Tavris, Ph.D.
  John Bahcall Auditorium
  2pm April 22, 2014

Why is it so hard for many people to admit their mistakes, to change their minds, give up a wrong belief, or change a familiar way of doing things for a better one? What blocks us from even being aware that we are wrong and might need to change? Why is it so difficult for quarreling couples, friends, and nations to give up the certainty that “I’m right and the other guy is just plain wrong”?

Dr. Carol Tavris will describe the cognitive biases that lead most people to justify beliefs that are outdated, decisions that have proved to be misguided or wrong, and the harms we inflict on others. Self-justification has benefits—it lets us sleep at night and allows us to feel that we are good, wise, and ethical—but it can also have disastrous personal and professional costs. It can keep us clinging to outdated beliefs, traveling on self-defeating paths, and harming the people we love most. Dr. Tavris will show us how self-deception operates, how we can recognize it, and how we can defeat the wiring.

Dr. Tavris earned her Ph.D. in social psychology at the University of Michigan. In her career as a writer, teacher, and lecturer, she has sought to educate the public about the important contributions of psychological science and explain how pseudoscience can lead us astray at best and, at worst, cause enormous personal and social harm. Her latest book, with Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts, has been translated into 13 foreign languages. Her other best-known books include Anger: The misunderstood emotion; The Mismeasure of Woman: Why women are not the better sex, the inferior sex, or the opposite sex; and, with Carole Wade, two leading textbooks in introductory psychology.

Dr. Tavris has taught at UCLA, and she 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, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, and the (London) Times Literary Supplement. Many of these have been collected in Psychobabble and Biobunk: Using psychological science to think critically about popular psychology. She has been invited to give distinguished lectureships, workshops, and keynote addresses to students, clinicians, psychologists, lawyers, physicians, and general audiences around the world, from New Zealand to Finland. Dr. Tavris is a fellow of three divisions of the APA, a Charter Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, and serves on the editorial board of Psychological Science in the Public Interest.