Monday, May 14, 2007

Mistakes Were Made, Part Deux

Here are a couple of recent articles that are greatly related to the book review I posted a couple down on cognitive dissonance and how it rules so much of our behavior. The first one, via Neuroethics & Law, is a link and abstract to an article "The Dishonesty of Honest People: A Theory of Self-Concept Management." The abstract:

Dishonesty plays a large role in the economy. Causes for (dis)honest behavior seem to be based partially on external rewards, and partially on internal rewards. Here, we investigate how such external and internal rewards work in concert to produce (dis)honesty. We propose and test a theory of self-concept maintenance that allows people to engage to some level in dishonest behavior, thereby benefiting from external benefits of dishonesty, while maintaining their positive view about themselves in terms of being honest individuals. The results show that (1) given the opportunity to engage in beneficial dishonesty, people will engage in such behaviors; (2) the amount of dishonesty is largely insensitive to either the expected external benefits or the costs associated with the deceptive acts; (3) people know about their actions but do not update their self-concepts; (4) causing people to become more aware of their internal standards for honesty decreases their tendency for deception; and (5) increasing the “degrees of freedom” that people have to interpret their actions increases their tendency for deception. We suggest that dishonesty governed by self-concept maintenance is likely to be prevalent in the economy, and understanding it has important implications for designing effective methods to curb dishonesty.

#4 seems to contradict the concept of cognitive dissonance, so I'm a little skeptical, but the rest definitely merits reading.

The other article is a slight bit less academic, a book review of former CIA Director Tenet's account of the Iraq buildup, which sounds like a very long exercise in cognitive dissonance. You get it from the very first sentence?

Why has it become impossible to admit a mistake in Washington and accept the consequences?

Which has made me think of one more point of relevance concerning cog diss and what we do in corr sent policy. If humans have such a hard time admitting mistakes and if sentencing reform, by nature, is only attempted when we believe the current course is a mistake, why do we insist on populating the commissions or other bodies that must develop change recommendations with people greatly tied to the current course? Aren't we in effect telling them loudly YOU'RE WRONG? Why would we then be surprised when their contributions to the resulting efforts end up creating so many moribund commissions or worse? And why do we keep recommending to new states considering reform that they do the same? No wonder the NYs, COs, VTs, and others are launching their commissions without a firm commitment to instruments that would start them with such unbalanced perspectives.

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