What do mistakes reveal about human nature?


Daniel Gilbert is the Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. His research with Tim Wilson on "affective forecasting" investigates how and how well people can make predictions about the emotional impact of future events.

Dan has won numerous awards for his teaching and research—from the Guggenheim Fellowship to the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology. However, he says that his greatest accomplishment is that he appears just before Dizzy Gillespie on the list of Most Famous High School Dropouts.

Dan's research has been covered by The New York Times Magazine, Forbes, Money, CNN, U.S. News & World Report, The New Yorker, Scientific American, Oprah Magazine, Psychology Today, and many others.

  • Transcript


Question: What do mistakes reveal about human nature?

Dan Gilbert: Well mistakes almost always reveal something interesting about the system that makes them. When I was a kid I was fascinated by optical illusions. I would sit in my father’s study – I had this book of optical illusions – and just stare and state at the lines that you could just put your fingers down and you’d realize they’re equal lengths; but you took your fingers up and, “My gosh! They look like one’s longer than the other!” How does that happen? How can I believe something that at one level I know is absolutely wrong? I think this is a metaphor for a lot of what’s interesting in psychology. Our tendency to believe, but to not believe. One part of our brain says it’s right. Another part of our brain says it’s wrong. Mistakes that we make almost always reveal the war between these two parts of our brain. The war between what’s rational and what’s irrational inside our heads.

Recorded on: 6/12/07