In psychology rationalization or rationalisation is a defense mechanism in which controversial behaviors or feelings are justified and explained in a seemingly rational or logical manner in the absence of a true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable—or even admirable and superior—by plausible means. It is also an informal fallacy of reasoning.
Rationalization happens in two steps:
- A decision, action, judgement is made for a given reason, or no (known) reason at all.
- 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.
Many conclusions individuals come to do not fall under the definition of rationalization as the term is denoted above.