Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson’s Theories – Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me


            There are many situations that were are faced in our lives on a daily basis. While are often right in some, we often find ourselves in the wrong in some of the situations. However, there is often a tendency not to assume responsibility for our mistakes when faced with a situation in which we wronged somebody or did something that is wrong to the public (Egan). The higher the responsibility, there higher the likelihood to justify that you were right for the wrong you did and that probably somebody else was responsible. The concept of self-justification is deeply rooted in human life and no one ever seems ready to accept the responsibility of a wrong done . The ability to deny truth and lie is attributed to the cognitive dissonance in human beings.

The Theories of Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

            In their research, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson developed theories as to why humans do not assume responsibility for a wrong done. The asserted the mental drive that controls the self-justification has an unpleasant feeling termed as cognitive dissonance. The cognitive dissonance drives an individual into justifying his /her wrong deeds. When an individual if faced with a fact that clarifies why what they do is wrong, they often find a way of justifying their actions (Tavris and Aronson 13). The cognitive dissonance occurs when an individual holds two cognitions (opinions, ideas, beliefs or attitudes) that are psychologically inconsistent. Although dissonance has an effect of creating mental discomfort, often an individual will not rest until a solution to reduce it is achieved. The cognitive dissonance is attributed to the ability of human mind to analyse how the behaviour transcends affects the rewards and punishment and often acts to contradict them.

            The cognitive dissonance is powerful and is attributed to making individuals to have the ability to make unreasonable processing of information (Tavris and Aronson 20). The Tavris and Aronson theories further point that even after making the unreasonable processing of the information; dissonance makes humans to display bias. The individuals who suffer from cognitive dissonance continually continue to belief in the facts that have even been proven to be untrue. For instance if a politician undertakes an action and discovers that the actions were not worthwhile, such a politician will make all attempts to make the decision appear fruitful. Tavris and Aronson gave an example of the actions of President Bush to send troops to Iraq. Although it was obvious that it cost billions of dollars and more violence in the country, he justified his move and made it clear in the public eye that it was a good decision.

            The venting of anger, which is a common act of relieving anger, has been shown as a cause of high blood pressure and people feeling angrier. Cognitive dissonance predicts that when anger is directed aggressively at another individual, it would create a desire to justify such an action later. Furthermore, the act of self-justification will increase aggression if similar offense is repeated. The act is common among juveniles, who on committing crimes, are likely to achieve self-justification as to why they are right on having committed their wrong acts and would do it more now that they have “lied” to themselves that their acts were justified.

One Recent Incident of Undue Force or Police Brutality

            There have been widespread reports of police brutality in the US, with most of these incidences affecting African-American US citizens. One such a case involved Ezzel Ford of Los Angeles, California (Harkinson).  According to the Los Angeles police, when they tried to carry out an “investigative stop” on the youth, he merely wheeled away and tried to take a riffle belonging to the officer who wanted to arrest him. However, those reports by the LAPD were contradictory to the ones reported by a witness who was believed to be mother of Ford.

 According to the woman, who claims to be Ford’s mother, she said that Ford was lying in the ground in response to the orders given to him by the lead officer. The woman went further to claim that Ezzel was shot in his back while he was lying in the ground. On the other hand, the incident attracted the attention of the public who gathered outside LAPD headquarters in order to protest the shooting.

Application of Tavris and Aronson’s Theories to Ezzel Ford’s Incident

            The idea of self-justification could be observed clearly in the Ezzel incident. First, the police officers on duty that fateful day did not want to own any responsibility about the incident. Although it was quite clear that the youth was shot in the back, there was no acceptance from the police officer who shot him. According to (Tavris and Aronson), self-justification is common when somebody makes a mistake and would do what it takes to justify that the action was right.

“To err is human, but humans have a choice of covering up or fessing up” (10).

Although the case was placed under investigation in order to determine what caused Ezzel to be shot, the woman who claimed to be the mother of the victim was in certain that the police officer responsible was in the wrong. It was probably from her long-held belief that the police always attack African-Americans, regardless whether they are right or wrong. Furthermore, it is obvious that the woman was not at the scene when the incident happened and might have developed her accusations from a general public belief. Her statement regarding the incident was consistent to Tavris and Aronson’s theory of cognitive dissonance, where the power of the beliefs leads one into believing they are right.

Finally, the LA County District Attorney and its Force investigation department Unit equally failed to acknowledge the actions of its officers who were on duty when the incident occurred. The only statement they could give was that investigation was being carried out in order to determine the cause of the fatal incident that led to shooting of Ezzel by the police officer who was on duty. The police force investigation unit portrayed self-justification in that the department even failed to acknowledge the fact that the police actually shot the deceased. Since the police were responsible for the shooting, the investigative department would have accepted the officer’s mistake then proceed to determine whether it was a warranted incident or otherwise.


The Tavris and Aronson’s theories are about the way people make sense of out contradictory ideas and lead lives that are meaningful and consistent. The idea of self-justification as pointed by the theory is common amongst the police officers who are often involved in cases of brutal attacks.  The continued rise in police brutality has raised many questions on the US justice system. Therefore, there is need to implement an implicit bias training all over the country for the law-enforcement officers who are tasked with the federal duties. If successfully implemented, cases of brutal attacks will reduce drastically.

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