The New York Times
Originally published May 22, 2017
Here are two excerpts:
Mistakes can be hard to digest, so sometimes we double down rather than face them. Our confirmation bias kicks in, causing us to seek out evidence to prove what we already believe. The car you cut off has a small dent in its bumper, which obviously means that it is the other driver’s fault.
Psychologists call this cognitive dissonance — the stress we experience when we hold two contradictory thoughts, beliefs, opinions or attitudes.
“Cognitive dissonance is what we feel when the self-concept — I’m smart, I’m kind, I’m convinced this belief is true — is threatened by evidence that we did something that wasn’t smart, that we did something that hurt another person, that the belief isn’t true,” said Carol Tavris, a co-author of the book “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me).”
She added that cognitive dissonance threatened our sense of self.
“To reduce dissonance, we have to modify the self-concept or accept the evidence,” Ms. Tavris said. “Guess which route people prefer?”
Or maybe you cope by justifying your mistake. The psychologist Leon Festinger suggested the theory of cognitive dissonance in the 1950s when he studied a small religious group that believed a flying saucer would rescue its members from an apocalypse on Dec. 20, 1954. Publishing his findings in the book “When Prophecy Fails,” he wrote that the group doubled down on its belief and said God had simply decided to spare the members, coping with their own cognitive dissonance by clinging to a justification.
“Dissonance is uncomfortable and we are motivated to reduce it,” Ms. Tavris said.
When we apologize for being wrong, we have to accept this dissonance, and that is unpleasant. On the other hand, research has shown that it can feel good to stick to our guns.