Changing Minds


Newton’s third law of physics states that for every force, there is an equal and opposite force. The same principle holds true for conflicts of opinion, the more you try and change someones mind, the more they are likely to resist.

I have an interest in psychology and philosophy and so took a course from Duke University on ‘How to Reason and Argue‘.Despite being quite technical, the course was an excellent primer to the foundations of this subject.

downloadYesterday, I came across an article that piqued my interest.

The article mentions how a professor of political science published the results of an informational vaccination campaign to test whether facts, science, emotions or stories could make people change their minds.

The results were staggering, none of the interventions worked, and in some instances, it even had a negative affect, a phenomena known as the backfire effect.

Over the years I have realized that sometimes people can’t or will not change their opinions despite facts showing convincing evidence to the contrary. As clear as facts are, sometimes psychology and cognitive dissonance can have a stronger influence on a persons’ (irrational) behavior.

As the article asks: If factual correction is ineffective, how can one make people change their misperception?

If information doesn’t square with someone’s prior beliefs, they will discard their belief if they’re weak and discard the information if the beliefs are strong.

What does this tell us? If you want to change someones opinion, it may be more effective to come from an angle that doesn’t contradict with their beliefs.

This article about gun control did this effectively. Instead of coming from the usual angle of using facts and figures, the article is more personal and uses the perspective from a gun advocate. Other advocates can relate to the writer and will likely be more receptive to his opinion.

Something to keep in mind when you are communicating and trying to change people’s perspective with pure facts and reason.


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