What is this fallacy (or cognitive phenomenon) called?

Okay, I hope I can explain this well, but I’m having a bit of trouble articulating…

An individual affectively engages in an action A. The individual is then asked why he engaged in action A. The individual doesn’t really have a good explanation. Using cognition in analyzing his own behavior, comes up with a plausible explanation that may or may not be an accurate explanation of why he engaged in action A. The analysis happens almost as would a third-party analysis, as the individual doesn’t have much insight into his actions (because he acted in a state of automaticity). The individual just finds a way to explain the behavior, even if it doesn’t reflect the true antecedents to the behavior.

I think it’s not exactly what you are aiming at, but it sounds related to “confabulating”, only less extreme.

From Wikipedia:

(bolding is mine)
I first ran across this term in an Oliver Sacks book.

Can you give a more concrete example?

Thanks, Misling. I’m not really thinking of a disorder so much as normal behavior.

For example, serial killers sometimes just kill for no apparent reason. Even they don’t know why. But police will grill them for hours and hours on why they did it, and sometimes they will find some explanation that sounds good to themselves. But the answer is developed based on the need to have an answer; it’s not really based on actually having insight. An answer is needed so one is constructed.

I’m having some trouble articulating this; I’m thinking it may be post hoc fallacy?

I don’t think this is a fallacy; a fallacy is generally a flaw in a logical argument. We’re not talking about a logical argument here, it’s a psychological phenomenon. In this case it’s simply an incorrect analysis.

I don’t know what psychologists call it when a subject back-constructs an incorrect rationale for an action. It sounds like rationalization but I really don’t know jack about psychology.

I think I know what he is talking about. There have been experiments with split brain people (whose corpus collosum has been severed, usually to try to control epilepsy). You show them something only in the left(?) hand visual field (that goes to the right brain) and something entirely different in the other half. They take an action that is appropriate only to what the right brain experienced and when asked why they did that, the left brain (the one with the speech center) makes up a wholly spurious tale to explain it.

But I don’t know what the phenomenon is called.

These two statements seem hard to reconcile. Can you come up with an example that’s even more normal than serial-killing? :dubious::stuck_out_tongue:

I agree with the term confabulation.

There is another reported experiment performed during brain surgery where an impulse applied to a certain brain region caused the patient to turn her head to the left. Every time this was done the patient was asked why she turned her head, and she would confidently give a reason (eg. ‘I wanted to see if someone was standing in the doorway’, or ‘I had a kink in my neck and I wanted to get rid of it’). Different reasons were given on repeated trials.

The author of the book where I read about this (“The Illusion of Conscious Will” by Daniel M. Wegner) makes the claim that the same thing happens with all rationalizations - in other words the part of the brain that creates actions is separate from the part that provides reasons after the fact. When things are working normally the reasons are easy enough to guess.

Post Hoc is based on the longer phrase Post hoc ergo propter hoc (loosely: after which therefore because of which) and implies inaccurately attributing causation. I walked by and the light went out, therefore my presence causes lights to go out.

This sounds like the crux of the issue to me and I wonder if the serial killer example isn’t more extreme or if I’m missing the point of your question.

If I am understanding, I think the opposite takes place just as often. Someone has a specific motive for a given behavior, but either denies it or claims a completely different motive.
Maybe that’s what leads to the behavior you’re talking about, making up a motive to hide an ulterior motive in a situation where the ulterior motive is somewhat pedestrian.

Rationalization ?

You’re thinking of self-perception theory.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-perception_theory

I would call it backwards rationalization. Its basic function is to fix up cognitive dissonance.

Justification? After all, you are trying to justify your behavior. Why did I do that? Uh, because of this (reason plucked from the air). Try looking up Richard Nisbett’s research. IIRC, Nisbett and Wilson (sometime in the 80s) is the seminal research on this kind of thing.

The book Blink talks about this in-depth.

I don’t have a term for it beyond what’s offered above, but it seems that societies tend to do this to provide answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

The result is mythology.

Thanks, everyone. I guess there is some validity to several of the terms proposed, and I’ll be reading up on them. Thanks!

Gni ? How do you rationalize forward ? Self lying prior to the act ? And they say *I *think too much…

IIRC, that can and does happen. People want to do something, but don’t like or won’t admit their motives, so they create new ones. of course, deep down they know those aren’t honest, but some people are very good at making themselves believe their “new” motivations.

As a matter of fact, why isn’t “rationalization” the appropriate term?

I do this a lot. Except I’m not a serial killer. But just to justify something wrong I did without thinking, and therefore enabling me to get away with it…most of the time.