Why We Make Mistakes
How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average
By Joseph T. Hallinan
(Broadway Books, Paperback, 9780767928069, 304pp.)
Publication Date: February 9, 2010
Other Editions of This Title: Hardcover
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We forget our passwords. We pay too much to go to the gym. We think we’d be happier if we lived in California (we wouldn’t), and we think we should stick with our first answer on tests (we shouldn’t). Why do we make mistakes? And could we do a little better?
We human beings have design flaws. Our eyes play tricks on us, our stories change in the retelling, and most of us are fairly sure we’re way above average. In Why We Make Mistakes, journalist Joseph T. Hallinan sets out to explore the captivating science of human error—how we think, see, remember, and forget, and how this sets us up for wholly irresistible mistakes.
In his quest to understand our imperfections, Hallinan delves into psychology, neuroscience, and economics, with forays into aviation, consumer behavior, geography, football, stock picking, and more. He discovers that some of the same qualities that make us efficient also make us error prone. We learn to move rapidly through the world, quickly recognizing patterns—but overlooking details. Which is why thirteen-year-old boys discover errors that NASA scientists miss—and why you can’t find the beer in your refrigerator.
Why We Make Mistakes is enlivened by real-life stories—of weathermen whose predictions are uncannily accurate and a witness who sent an innocent man to jail—and offers valuable advice, such as how to remember where you’ve hidden something important. You’ll learn why multitasking is a bad idea, why men make errors women don’t, and why most people think San Diego is west of Reno (it’s not).
Why We Make Mistakes will open your eyes to the reasons behind your mistakes—and have you vowing to do better the next time.
Joseph T. Hallinan, a former writer for the Wall Street Journal, is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He lives with his wife and children in Chicago.
"What an eye-opener! If you're someone who has trouble remembering the names of people (or common objects), if you seem to forget things almost immediately after you learn them, if your memory of past events frequently turns out to be drastically at odds with the facts, relax: you're not alone. It's a truism that we all make mistakes, but Hallinan is more interested in why we make them, in what quirks of our mental makeup allow—and even frequently encourage—us to misremember important events, forget passwords, mistake strangers for friends, buy more groceries than we actually need, fall for optical illusions, and so on. Turns out these aren't sign of illness. Just the opposite: our minds behave this way because our brains are wired this way. Hallinan cites numerous studies and experts (there is a lengthy bibliography), but he keeps the book from becoming a stodgy recitations of facts and statistics through the frequent use of illustrative examples and snappy prose. He also throws in a few big surprises, such as the revelation that multitasking is a myth (we don't do several things at once—we switch between various tasks without really focusing on any of them). A vastly informative, and for some readers vastly reassuring, exploration of the way our minds work."
“Entertains while it informs. Hallinan brings the science of human behavior to life, showing how it applies to us every day.”
—Don Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things