Mistake-Proof Your Life

As Joseph T. Hallinan makes clear in his compelling new book, Why We Make Mistakes (Broadway Books, $24.95), the human mind is a very interesting thing.

from Reader's Digest | March 2009

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We’re prone to making mistakes under circumstances that, in most cases, we’re not even aware of.

For example, the color of an object can completely skew our judgment of it. Hallinan cites studies showing that the color of a particular pill can affect our perception of its potency.

In one study, he says, “people rated black and red capsules as ‘strongest’ and white ones as ‘weakest’”—whether or not this was true.

Hallinan also references a fascinating study done by two researchers some years ago in which trained referees were shown videos of the same aggressive play during a football game.

In one video, the more aggressive team was wearing white; in the other, it was wearing black. Which team do you think the referees felt were behaving far more aggressively on the field?

You got it: The black-uniformed team, time and again, was rated as “more deserving of a penalty” than the white-uniformed team.

The same researchers went on to compile records for actual pro football and hockey tams during the ’70s and ’80s, to make sure they’d covered what went on the “real world.” The conclusion? “For both sports,” reports Hallinan, “the researchers found that teams that wear black uniforms [had] been penalized significantly more than average.”

Other mistakes we make: We’re strongly influenced by first impressions, whether they’re right or wrong.

And all too often, we’d rather “wing it” than take the time to study manuals or sets of directions.

Hallinan has long studied the science of mistakes and has much more to report. For additional fascinating data and analysis of the mistakes all of us make and why, check out his website, www.whywemakemistakes.com.

Why We Make Mistakes, Copyright © 2009 By Joseph T. Hallinan, is published at $24.95 by Broadway Books, 1745 Broadway, New York, New York 10019