[i]Psychologists once conducted a simple experiment with far-reaching implications: They asked people to describe an instance in their lives when they had hurt someone and another instance when they had been hurt by someone else. The incidents that people described were similar whether they saw themselves in the role of victim or perpetrator – they were familiar betrayals, lies and acts of unkindness.
When people described events where they were the perpetrators of wrongdoing, they invariably said their actions had caused only brief pain to others. Many said the hurtful acts were justified or could not have been prevented.
When people reported the same kinds of incidents as victims, however, they invariably described the actions as inexplicable, senseless and immoral. Victims never felt the wrongdoing was unavoidable. And they reported that the pain lasted a long time.
The different perceptions of victims and perpetrators in Baumeister’s experiment are a result of a phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance, Tavris and Aronson argue in a new book titled, “Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me).” When we do something that hurts others, there is a part of us that recognizes our action as despicable. But that comes into conflict – into dissonance – with our belief that we are good people. The solution? We reinterpret our hurtful actions to minimize our responsibility and downplay the pain we have caused.
ush’s handling of the Libby case, and the way the nation as a whole has dealt with the Iraq war, reeks of cognitive dissonance, Tavris and Aronson say.
“Republicans and Democrats have both been very busy reducing dissonance over the Iraq decision,” said Tavris, an independent researcher who works in Los Angeles. “The Republicans who were most in support of the war continue to believe that weapons of mass destruction have been found and al-Qaeda was in Iraq and Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were in cahoots. They reduce their dissonance by rejecting evidence they were wrong.”
“Half of all Democrats supported the war,” she added. “They have reduced dissonance by conveniently forgetting they once supported the war. . . . That is the way memory works and the way the brain works. We ignore, forget or dismiss information that suggests we might be wrong. We rewrite our memories to confirm what we believe.”[/i]
Thoughts on this analysis? I’m personally not fond of it, but it gave me some perspective on some of JeffR’s senseless post. Thought I’d share.
P.S: JeffR’s posts in the “Troop surge” thread.