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Why It’s So Hard to Admit You’re Wrong

Despite your best intentions and efforts, it is inevitable: At some point in your life, you will be wrong.


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. For example, you might believe you are a kind and fair person, so when you rudely cut someone off, you experience dissonance. To cope with it, you deny your mistake and insist the other driver should have seen you, or you had the right of way even if you didn’t.


“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).”

“认识失调是我们在自我认知——我是聪明、善良的,我坚信这是真的——受到证据挑战时产生的感受,这些证据显示我们做了不聪明的、伤害其他人的事,证明我们之前的想法是错的,”《错不在我》[Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)]一书的作者之一卡罗尔·塔夫里斯(Carol Tavris)说。

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.

或许你会为自己的错误去辩解,以此作为应对。心理学家利昂·费斯廷格(Leon Festinger) 在上世纪50年代提出了认知失调理论,当时他研究了一个小型宗教团体,该团体认为飞碟能在1954年12月20日世界末日来临时拯救其信众。他在发表这项研究发现的《预言破灭时》(When Prophecy Fails)一书中写道,这个团体进一步强化了自己的信仰,称上帝只是决定饶其成员一命,这是通过死死抓住一种解释来应对自己的认知失调。 纽约时报中英文网 http://www.qqenglish.com

“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. One study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found that people who refused to apologize after a mistake had more self-esteem and felt more in control and powerful than those who did not refuse.

当我们为错误道歉,就必须接受这种失调,那是令人不快的。另一方面,研究显示固执地坚持自己的观点则让会人感觉良好。一项发表于《欧洲社会心理学杂志》(European Journal of Social Psychology)的研究发现,相比于不拒绝道歉的人,犯错后拒绝道歉的人自尊心更强,也会感觉自己更有掌控力、更强大。

“In a way, apologies give power to their recipients,” said Tyler Okimoto, an author of the study. “For example, apologizing to my wife admits my wrongdoing; but apologizing also gives her the power to choose whether she wants to alleviate my shame through forgiveness, or increase my shame by holding a grudge. Our research has found that people experience a short-term increase in their feelings of personal power and control after refusing to apologize.”

“从某种程度讲,道歉是把力量交给了接受道歉的一方,”这项研究的作者泰勒·冲本(Tyler Okimoto)说。“比如,向妻子道歉等于承认我的错误;但道歉也让她有权选择是否通过原谅来减轻我的耻辱感,还是心怀怨念继而加重我的羞耻感。我们的研究发现,在拒绝道歉之后,人们的力量感和控制感会在短时间内上升。”

Feeling powerful may be an attractive short-term benefit, but there are long-term consequences. Refusing to apologize could potentially jeopardize “the trust on which a relationship is based,” Mr. Okimoto said, adding that it can extend conflict and encourage outrage or retaliation.

纽约时报中英文网 www.qqenglish.com


When you refuse to admit your mistakes, you are also less open to constructive criticism, experts said, which can help hone skills, rectify bad habits and improve yourself over all.


“We cling to old ways of doing things, even when new ways are better and healthier and smarter. We cling to self-defeating beliefs long past their shelf life,” Ms. Tavris said. “And we make our partners, co-workers, parents and kids really, really mad at us.”


Another study, from the Stanford researchers Carol Dweck and Karina Schumann, found that subjects were more likely to take responsibility for their mistakes when they believed they had the power to change their behavior. This is easier said than done, though, so how exactly do you change your behavior and learn to embrace your mistakes?

斯坦福大学研究者卡萝尔·德韦克(Carol Dweck)和卡林娜·舒曼(Karina Schumann)的另一项研究发现,人们在相信自己有能力改变自己的行为时,更可能为自己的错误承担责任。不过,这个说起来容易,做起来难,所以你到底该如何改变自己的行为,学会接受自己的错误呢?

The first step is to recognize cognitive dissonance in action. Your mind will go to great lengths to preserve your sense of identity, so it helps to be aware of what that dissonance feels like. Typically, it manifests as confusion, stress, embarrassment or guilt. Those feelings do not necessarily mean you are in the wrong, but you can at least use them as reminders to explore the situation from an impartial perspective and objectively question whether you are at fault.


Similarly, learn to recognize your usual justifications and rationalizations. Think of a time you were wrong and knew it, but tried to justify it instead. Remember how it felt to rationalize your behavior and pinpoint that feeling as cognitive dissonance the next time it happens.


Mr. Okimoto said it also helped to remember that people were often more forgiving than you might think. Traits like honesty and humility make you more human and therefore more relatable. On the flip side, if it is undeniably clear that you are in the wrong, refusing to apologize reveals low self-confidence.


“If it is clear to everybody that you made a mistake,” Mr. Okimoto said, “digging your heels in actually shows people your weakness of character rather than strength.”




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