The psychology underneath this and other cognitive fallacies is brilliantly illuminated by psychologist Carol Tavris and University of California, Santa Cruz, psychology professor Elliot Aronson in their book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) (Harcourt, 2007). Tavris and Aronson focus on so-called self-justification, which "allows people to convince themselves that what they did was the best thing they could have done." The passive voice of the telling phrase "mistakes were made" shows the rationalization process at work. "Mistakes were quite possibly made by the administrations in which I served," confessed Henry Kissinger about Vietnam, Cambodia and South America.Shermer also contrasts the admit no errors style of Bush with these words spoken by President Kennedy after the botched Bay of Pigs invasion:
The engine driving self-justification is cognitive dissonance: "a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent," Tavris and Aronson explain. "Dissonance produces mental discomfort, ranging from minor pangs to deep anguish; people don't rest easy until they find a way to reduce it." It is in that process of reducing dissonance that the self-justification accelerator is throttled up.
This administration intends to be candid about its errors. For as a wise man once said, "An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it." We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors.... We're not going to have any search for scapegoats ... the final responsibilities of any failure are mine, and mine alone.This administration, on the other hand, sees nothing but scapegoats.