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How We Live With Contradictions

Hidden Brain

Hidden Brain Media

Science, Arts, Social Sciences, Performing Arts

4.639.3K Ratings

🗓️ 11 September 2023

⏱️ 54 minutes

🧾️ Download transcript


Think about the last time you did something you knew was wrong. How did you explain your actions to yourself? All of us tell stories about why we do the things we do. We justify our failures, and come up with plausible explanations for our actions. This week, Elliot Aronson explains the mental processes behind this type of self-justification, and shares how he helped develop one of the most widely-known concepts in psychology: cognitive dissonance. Humans are full of contradictions. We want to stay healthy, yet we smoke and loathe to exercise. We want to be honest, but we cheat and tell lies. In other words, we want to think of ourselves as good people, yet sometimes we don't act like it. Why is that? This week, psychologist Elliot Aronson shares his research on how we figure out those contradictions.

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This is Hidden Brain, I'm Shankar Vedantam.


In the hit TV show Breaking Bad, High School chemistry teacher Walter White


learns he is dying from cancer.


To make money, for his cancer treatments for his family he uses his chemistry expertise


to start manufacturing crystal meth. When his wife Skyler finds out he's been


selling drugs she is appalled.


In an effort to win her back, Walter asks her to see things from his point of view.


I've done a terrible thing, but I did it for a good reason. I did it for us.


Walter thinks of himself as a good person, a good husband, a good father. He believes that the money he gets from manufacturing drugs will


keep a roof over his family's heads once he dies. But as Walter gets sucked


into the underworld of crime and illicit drugs, he starts to commit


acts of violence in order to keep the money coming. The deeper he goes, the more rationalizations


he invents.


Breaking Bad won a raft of awards, season after season.


I personally think of it as the greatest TV show ever made. What makes the story


so powerful is that even though the plot is improbable it has the ring of


psychological truth.


All of us tell ourselves stories about why we do the things we do.


We explain away our flaws and failures,


and we come up with plausible explanations for our actions.


Today on the show, the first episode of a two-part series


into the human capacity for self-justification.


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