Few experiences give us the same high level of satisfaction as winning an argument. So says Kathryn Schultz in her book Being Wrong. She says, “…the thrill of being right is undeniable, universal…” and “we can relish being right about almost anything.” It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s an exact memory about something that happened on the world stage, a successful prediction of the outcome of a horse race, or correctly guessing the name of an actor who starred in a ten-year old movie, we love being right.
I agree with Ms. Schultz. My husband and I rarely argue, but when we do, it’s a fight to the finish over a trivial event that each remembers with different, and contradictory, details.
The problem with our love of being right is that, according to author Joseph T. Hallinan, in Why We Make Mistakes, usually we are wrong. Ms. Shultz says that when we are wrong, “we tend to view it as rare and bizarre.”
Mr. Hallinan gives reasons for our making mistakes, including”deeply ingrained biases,” common visual errors, limitations of short-term memory, a world that requires us to multitask and keep track of zillions of passwords, and our failure to learn from experience. It’s obvious that being wrong has graver consequences in some situations than in others. He gives examples of airport baggage screeners and radiologists as occupations which have high error rates and more to lose from mistakes. He says that “baggage screeners and radiologists at hospitals spend the bulk of their time looking for things they rarely see” and there lies the problem. Mr. Hallinan’s goal is to help people recognize why they’re making mistakes, understand their limitations, and change certain behaviors.
Ms. Schultz agrees that we all live with “error-blindness.” She says that “in our collective imagination error is associated not just with shame and stupidity but also with ignorance, indolence, psychopathology, and moral degeneracy,” but she disagrees with this view. Instead, we shouldn’t be embarrassed by making mistakes, because “…wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change.”
While both books make for interesting reading, I doubt that either will change many people’s behaviors. I’m pretty sure I’m right about this.