Excuses Bibliography

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In psychology and logic, rationalization or rationalisation (also known as making excuses[1]) is a defense mechanism in which controversial behaviors or feelings are justified and explained in a seemingly rational or logical manner to avoid the true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable—or even admirable and superior—by plausible means.[2] It is also an informal fallacy of reasoning.[3]

Rationalization happens in two steps:

  1. A decision, action, judgement is made for a given reason, or no (known) reason at all.
  2. A rationalization is performed, constructing a seemingly good or logical reason, as an attempt to justify the act after the fact (for oneself or others).

Rationalization encourages irrational or unacceptable behavior, motives, or feelings and often involves ad hoc hypothesizing. This process ranges from fully conscious (e.g. to present an external defense against ridicule from others) to mostly unconscious (e.g. to create a block against internal feelings of guilt or shame). People rationalize for various reasons—sometimes when we think we know ourselves better than we do. Rationalization may differentiate the original deterministic explanation of the behavior or feeling in question.[clarification needed][4][5]


Quintilian and classical rhetoric used the term color for the presenting of an action in the most favourable possible perspective.[6]Laurence Sterne in the eighteenth century took up the point, arguing that, were a man to consider his actions, "he will soon find, that such of them, as strong inclination and custom have prompted him to commit, are generally dressed out and painted with all the false beauties [color] which, a soft and flattering hand can give them".[7]

DSM definition[edit]

According to the DSM-IV, rationalization occurs "when the individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by concealing the true motivations for his or her own thoughts, actions, or feelings through the elaboration of reassuring or self serving but incorrect explanations".[8]



Egregious rationalizations intended to deflect blame can also take the form of ad hominem attacks or DARVO. Some rationalizations take the form of a comparison. Commonly this is done to lessen the perception of an action's negative effects, to justify an action, or to excuse culpability:

  • "At least [what occurred] is not as bad as [a worse outcome]."
  • In response to an accusation: "At least I didn't [worse action than accused action]."
  • As a form of false choice: "Doing [undesirable action] is a lot better than [a worse action]."
  • In response to unfair or abusive behaviour: "I must have done something wrong if they treat me like this."

Based on anecdotal and survey evidence, John Banja states that the medical field features a disproportionate amount of rationalization invoked in the "covering up" of mistakes.[9] Common excuses made are:

  • "Why disclose the error? The patient was going to die anyway."
  • "Telling the family about the error will only make them feel worse."
  • "It was the patient's fault. If he wasn't so (sick etc), this error wouldn't have caused so much harm."
  • "Well, we did our best. These things happen."
  • "If we're not totally and absolutely certain the error caused the harm, we don't have to tell."
  • "They're dead anyway, no point in blaming."


  • Collective rationalizations are regularly constructed for acts of aggression, based on exaltation of the in-group and demonisation of the opposite side: as Fritz Perls put it, "Our own soldiers take care of the poor families; the enemy rapes them".[11]
  • Celebrity culture can be seen as rationalizing the gap between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, by offering participation to both dominant and subaltern views of reality.[12]


Main article: Psychoanalysis

Ernest Jones introduced the term "rationalization" to psychoanalysis in 1908, defining it as "the inventing of a reason for an attitude or action the motive of which is not recognized"'[13]—an explanation which (though false) could seem plausible.[14] The term (Rationalisierung in German) was taken up almost immediately by Sigmund Freud to account for the explanations offered by patients for their own neurotic symptoms.[15][16]

As psychoanalysts continued to explore the glossed of unconscious motives, Otto Fenichel distinguished different sorts of rationalization—both the justifying of irrational instinctive actions on the grounds that they were reasonable or normatively validated, and the rationalizing of defensive structures, whose purpose is unknown on the grounds that they have some quite different but somehow logical meaning.[17]

Later psychoanalysts are divided between a positive view of rationalization as a stepping-stone on the way to maturity,[18] and a more destructive view of it as splitting feeling from thought, and so undermining the powers of reason.[19]

Cognitive dissonance[edit]

Main article: Cognitive dissonance

Leon Festinger highlighted in 1957 the discomfort caused people by awareness of inconsistent thought. Rationalization can reduce such discomfort by explaining away the discrepancy in question, as when people who take up smoking after previously quitting decide that the evidence for it being harmful is less than they previously thought.

See also[edit]


  1. ^Understanding Rationalization: Making Excuses as an Effective Manipulation Tactic
  2. ^"Definition of rationalization". Retrieved 25 September 2011. 
  3. ^Dowden, Bradley. "Fallacy § Rationalization". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
  4. ^Kendra Van Wagner. "Defense Mechanisms – Rationalization". About.com: Psychology. Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  5. ^"Defenses". www.psychpage.com. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  6. ^Peter Green trans., Juvenal: The Sixteen Satires "Middlesex 1982) p. 156
  7. ^Lawrence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (Middlesex 1976) p. 147
  8. ^Association, published by the American Psychiatric (2000). DSM-IV-TR : diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4TH ED. ed.). United States: AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC PRESS INC (DC). p. 812. ISBN 978-0-89042-025-6. 
  9. ^Banja, John (2004). Medical Errors and Medical Narcissism. Sudbury: Jones and Bartlett. ISBN 0-7637-8361-7. 
  10. ^Fritz Perls, Gestalt Theory Verbatim (Bantam 1971) p. 9
  11. ^P. D. Marshall, Celebrity and Power (1997) pp. 48–9
  12. ^Adam Phillips, On Flirtation (London 1994) p. 109
  13. ^Brenda Maddox, Freud's Wizard (London 2006) p. 61
  14. ^Sigmund Freud, Case Histories II (London 1991) p. 184
  15. ^Sigmund Freud, "Psychoanalytische Bemerkungen über einen autobiographisch beschriebenen Fall von Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)", 1911
  16. ^Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) pp. 485–6
  17. ^Bateman, Anthony; Holmes, Jeremy (1995). Introduction to Psychoanalysis: Contemporary Theory and Practice. Psychology Press. p. 92. ISBN 9780415107396. 
  18. ^Symington, Neville (1993). Narcissism: A New Theory. Karnac Books. p. 119. ISBN 9781781811252. 


Further reading[edit]

Avoid Plagiarism: Take Good Notes

Plagiarism occurs when one writer misappropriates the words or ideas of another writer. However, plagiarism is not always the willful or intentional misappropriation of ideas, thoughts, and language. It is easy to commit “accidental” plagiarism, which, regardless of the writer’s intentions, carries serious academic consequences or legal penalties. Ignorance of copyright law, sloppy research, fatigue, carelessness, and haste are not acceptable excuses when a professor discovers plagiarism in a student’s paper. The best way to avoid the consequences of “accidental” plagiarism is to learn good research techniques.

How do you commit “accidental” plagiarism?

  • By failing or forgetting to include one source or multiple sources in your bibliography or references list.
  • By failing or forgetting to enclose a direct quote taken from another writer within quotation marks.
  • By failing to paraphrase properly. (By copying the original quote too closely and failing to put quotation marks around the parts of the sentence that are identical to the original).
  • By failing or forgetting to provide the reference for each summary or paraphrase of another writer.
  • By copying and pasting sections from electronic sources into your own document, then failing to properly quote, cite, and document the original source.
  • By confusing your own thoughts and words with those you have copied from other writers. (This is easy to do if you do not keep good notes when conducting research.)
Falsification of information, fabrication of sources, and distortion of data is considered fraud, not plagiarism, but it is just as serious. Submitting someone else’s work as your own (for example, submitting a term paper written by someone else or provided by an online term-paper service) is also considered fraud and carries far more serious consequences than plagiarizing part of a paper.

How do you avoid “accidental” plagiarism?

  • Learn how to properly integrate quotes and references into your own writing.
  • Learn how to paraphrase and summarize properly, then remember to attribute each paraphrase or summary to its original source.
  • Take good notes when conducting research. Use symbols or different colors of highlighter to distinguish your words and ideas from those belonging to other writers.
  • Use electronic sources carefully. It is best to print out or copy the entire document into a separate file instead of copying small sections directly into the draft you are writing.
  • Keep a meticulous working bibliography of all the books, journals, electronic full-text documents, and web sites you use. Remember to note name of author, date of publication, page numbers, publisher, and library call number or URL.
  • Proofread your paper carefully for research mistakes. Make sure all the sources cited, quoted, or discussed in your paper appear in your bibliography or references. Make sure each bibliographic note is as complete as possible. Make sure everything that appears in quotation marks is identical to the way it was printed in the source. Make sure you have not forgotten to enclose any direct language taken from a source in quotation marks, even if it is just a few words.
  • Ask for help from your professor, TA, or writing tutor if you are not sure how to quote something or cite something. Seek assistance before you submit the paper for a grade!
  • When in doubt, err on the side of caution and cite the source.

Try It!

Test your knowledge of plagiarism and the proper citation of source materials by taking Tufts’ online plagiarism quiz.

Go to Tufts University's Plagiarism Prevention Quiz (PDF) to take the quiz, and then see how well you did by looking at the Answers (PDF).

Taking Good Research Notes

Taking good notes while conducting research is essential to the research process. Your notes act as your own summary and response to the sources of information you encounter. Good note-taking skills make research a lot easier and faster, while poor notes all too easily lead to "accidental" plagiarism.

Common Mistakes when Taking Notes from Research:

  • Confusing direct quotations you have copied from an original source with your own written words and ideas. This is how presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin “accidentally” plagiarized sections of a book she was writing. She thought some passages written in her own handwriting were her own words, when in fact they were copied from another writer.
  • Passively writing down lots of quotations or summaries without writing down your own response to them.
  • Taking quotations out of context.
  • Forgetting where you read something or where you found some important data.
  • Forgetting to write down all the bibliographic information before you move to another web site or return the book to the library.
  • Spending too much time doing background reading instead of actively seeking information and ideas more relevant to the point of your paper.

Taking Good Notes

Good researchers are strategic readers, and their notes form a series of their own responses and questions to selected relevant passages. These responses and questions, jotted down quickly, later become part of the rough draft or provide direction in the research process. A good researcher uses different kinds of notes for different purposes.

Click here to read descriptions of different kinds of research notes

Three Questions to Consider when Taking Research Notes

  1. Will the source provide relevant background information, essential data, facts, statistics and other information that is not in dispute?
  2. Will the source lend an authoritative opinion, interpretation, or analysis with which the researcher agrees or will rely upon?
  3. Does the source provide a counter-point with which the researcher does not agree in whole or in part?

As discussed in Step 3b, it is important not to ignore relevant sources that run counter to your opinion or to the argument you will make in your research paper. If you disagree with the source, you should state why. Has the source been disputed or proven wrong by other researchers or scholars? Has the source overlooked another interpretation or another source of data? Taking disagreement into account and acknowledging the other side of an argument will make your final paper more interesting, sophisticated, and accurate.

Techniques for Plagiarism Prevention

In the research notes, a good researcher uses symbols, different colors of ink, Post-It Notes, and other simple devices to distinguish his or her own ideas and words from those that belong to someone else. Because a research project can take weeks or months to complete, your notes can easily become confusing or messy, making it all too easy to confuse your own words with those originally written by someone else.

Click here to see an example of research notes, with accompanying symbols.

Working Bibliography

A working bibliography is a list of books and other sources that you intend to find and read or skim to see if they are worthwhile for your own research. As you locate each source and read it, you can use your working bibliography to make notes about the usefulness or importance of that source. Develop your working bibliography by scrutinizing the sources used by other researchers on your topic and by doing searches of the library’s catalogue and online databases.To form a working bibliography, write down the complete bibliographic information for that source and its library call number. If the source is not available in your library or has been checked out, write a note to yourself about its availability. Use your working bibliography to keep track of the sources you have found or could not find, whether you have read or skimmed the source, and whether you have rejected it as inappropriate for your research.

Click here to see an example of a working bibliography

Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is simply a list of sources you have read or skimmed during your research process with added notes in which you summarize the main point of the source and indicate its degree of relevance to your project. Remember to include all sources used in your research, including web sites, films, personal interviews, and electronic versions of periodicals. You can easily turn your working bibliography into an annotated one. Using an annotated bibliography is extremely helpful for keeping track of your sources for a complex research project such as a senior thesis, and essential for advanced research at the graduate level and beyond.

Click here to see an example of an annotated bibliography


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