Using rational argument to change minds

Super piece on resistance to disconfirmation of strongly-held beliefs (see this for a great example on vaccination, where deeply-held and sincerely-believed views are at complete variance with how the immune system actually works).

The news is not all bad: minds can be changed, subject to specific and special conditions. In particular, arguments and evidence must be very strong, people must be given time to reflect on evidence and arguments. This is not the whole story by any means: one particular datum I like (perversely, as a bit of stats-citer) is that causal arguments trump statistical ones (for example: “you cannot catch aids from touching someone with aids, because transmission occurs via HIV in bodily fluids, compared to arguing that you cannot catch aids from touching someone with aids because no one ever has“. The first argument is more likely to win than the second one).

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Mind Hacks

I have a longer piece in the latest issue of Contributoria: What’s the evidence on using rational argument to change people’s minds? Here’s a few snips from the opening:

Are we, the human species, unreasonable? Do rational arguments have any power to sway us, or is it all intuition, hidden motivations, and various other forms of prejudice?

…the picture of human rationality painted by our profession can seem pretty bleak. Every week I hear about a new piece of research which shows up some quirk of our minds, like the one about people given a heavy clip board judge public issues as more important than people given a light clip board. Or that more attractive people are judged as more trustworthy, or they arguments they give as more intelligent.

…I set out to get to the bottom of the evidence on how we respond to rational arguments. Does rationality lose…

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Author: Shane O'Mara

Neuroscientist