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Intelligence is simply talking to many people.

How to Change People's Minds

How to Change People's Minds

I began this study half a year ago, researching several dozen papers, a few books, and many articles - basically, everything I could find (photo of first batch of sources). Conclusions were not possible based on the research that has been done, and so I expected more time was required. A few months have passed, and more time is still required, but this draft is now possible as a starting point, which I'll here put up for the internet in case anyone else wants to discuss it. Given the widespread concern about growing polarization and lack of ability to communicate or come together, on the internet and otherwise, hopefully someone wiser than me will develop a truly useful treatise on the subject.

The most important things to keep in mind when considering "how to change people's minds" are the following:

1. It doesn't matter that you are right. What matters is that other people are right.

2. People make decisions for a reason. The reason they have is different from the reason you have for making a different decision.

3. If you ask interesting questions, it's easier (often preferable) to listen than to talk.

4. Changing someone's mind takes real work and often risk.

5. Calm down.

6. It takes time, and it might be best to put something off.

7. You may just be ahead.

8. You have changed your mind before.

As to point one, what I mean is that while many of us argue because we think we are righter and want to prove this and have a sort of victory over those who are wrong, validating ourselves as superior, if you really want to change someone's mind (and not cause negative consequences) this is an approach you need to fix in yourself. If you expect to "prove" someone wrong, especially in public, they will likely be unwilling to agree no matter what, but even if they do agree they will probably hate you for damaging their reputations in front of others. In terms of consequences, what will bring about the consequences you want is that other people (often you need a significant percentage of the population) come to make the "right" decision. That means that to have the effect you want, you actually need them to believe something they currently don't.

As to the second point, if you want to change someones mind, that means you want them to make a different decision. They are currently making their decision reasonably based on the things they think are relevant to their choice, and you are making your decision based on other things. Instead of trying to make them accept a different decision which will conflict with their reasons, you should talk at length about their reasons and the important items that you based your own decision on.

As to the third point, there is a question of why you care if they change their mind anyway. Sometimes the reasons is extremely important because it involves real consequences, but in other cases it is simply people engaging in argument for pleasure, although this pleasure often comes with negative consequences. But if you ask better questions of the other person, the kind of questions from which you can get information you enjoy and find valuable regardless of its relevance to the matter you started with, you can find better enjoyment and you'll find better consequences as a result of becoming closer to the other person and knowing more.

As to the fourth point, if you really want to change people's minds, it means that you have to do the work, not them. You have to find the reasons they made their decision, find ways to make them understand other reasons as well as give them additional context for their own reasons to change their impressions of them, and you have to risk causing the other person damage which will result in negative consequences for you. You have to decide if a particular point is worth it, or if it's better to just peacefully acknowledge that there is more than one reasonable opinion on the matter, and optionally just state what your decision is and the most important reason you came to that decision.

As to the fifth point, argument or any competitive activity means excitement, which will not help, because to change someone's mind what you need isn't to win over them, but in a sense you need to lose. You need to calm down and provide the other person with enough material that they can make a different decision. Calming down is very hard when you're debating things you care about, but necessary for the sake of other people.

As to the sixth point, some people consciously allow or make themselves change their minds when they see contrary evidence, but this is probably a small percentage. Most people are unwilling to appear wrong, especially after they've stated their position publicly. You should expect that if they have the right information, they will change their mind eventually, although it may take some time. The more they have invested in their 'wrong' position (or the more you force them to dig into it), the more time it will take. You should expect that when you confront them with an opposing decision, they will attack it, but if you give them the information behind it, over time they will integrate it and adjust their decisions. You may find that while they called you crazy and stupid originally or even harmed you in some way, months or years later they will proclaim your ideas as their own. The more radical the idea seems at first, the more you will have to accept that your audience will criticize and disparage you at first, and if you want to change their mind you just have to be willing to be someone who bears this: You will be just a person who supplies them with ideas which they can later use, and you will probably never win the award of being "right." Also, it might be best to put off a person's coming to your point of view. For example, if you're in a public dialog and someone challenges you on a point (maybe after you've even given really good reasons for it which they have then showed they don't understand), it might be best to just sidestep your argumentative answer to their question and talk around it, off to the side of the matter at hand, although you will appear like you're missing the point of their question. You might tell some related story or you might just avoid their question entirely, which may make you look weak in your position, but allows them and others the grace of not having to take a more combative opposing position, which would effectively set your argument back.

7. As to the seventh point, while some people may have come to your decision before you, many people may come to it afterward, regardless of how much energy you spend trying to convince people. This is simply a matter of the bases of information people have. Over time, information that only a few people have may become general, and reasons or harms only a few people were aware of become obvious to the broad public. You may just be nearer to the beginning of such a development than most people.

8. As to the eigth point, because all of us have changed our minds on so many things before: One year we state definitively one thing we've spent hours thinking about and studying but the next year taking an opposite position on the same matter, and then years later again changing our position, it's a wonder we ever think we're right about anything. You might be wrong, but if you structure your debate to find out the other person's reasons and explore and test your own using the the resource of other peoples minds, you can at least come to a deeper and broader understanding of the reasons behind whatever decision you make or hold off from making.


As for the research other people have done which I studied, by and large, from the perspective of "changing minds" there are two subjects treated: one is how people feel about others they agree or disagree with, and the other is "tricks" to win arguments. (Additionally, there are many articles online based on these two subjects or on Pascal's still-relevant conclusions on the the issue). These didn't supply me with anything I could really use (for my specific question, although a dozen of these sources I highly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone), though, because what I wanted was better skills with changing people's minds in the debates and discussions I've always found myself in, with family, friends, people claiming authority over others, strangers, or the general public in online comments. Or at least I wanted better ways of dealing with the difficulties that come along with these debates.

"How people feel" research informed my own study by pointing to, giving examples, and reinforcing the reality that when people have or take differing positions they have emotional and combative reactions. "Tricks" were less important to me because, unlike short-term manipulation useful in sales or negotiation, tricking someone is anathema to my goal. However, "tricks" do point toward relevant things, toward both "realities" and more long-term, reliable tactics.

Discussion of this article on /r/TTTThis

I started to write a reference section, but didn't bother - instead, here is a large photo of most of the initial research (papers and books)

And here is the beginning of a sources section:

Emotions and the Microfoundations of the Arab Uprisings - Wendy Pearlman (Considering mostly Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia) When and why do enough others join the regular amount of small people defying political authority? Looking beyond "utility maximization" and "the inherent benefit of voicing dissent" (deeply held beliefs), emotions play a role, she finds, in shifting from fear, sadness and shame, which result in pessimistic assessment (which results in risk aversion and a low sense of control even accepting affronts to dignity) to anger, joy and pride, which result in optimistic assessment, risk acceptance, and feelings of personal efficacy.

Ten Reasons People Resist Change - Rosabeth Moss Kanter - Informative quick list of reasons. After reading, bought her book (en route) and plan to interview her.

Us and Them: Intergroup Failures of Empathy - Mina Cikara et al - "[W]e may feel secretly pleased" about misfortunes of an outgroup member, especially if you first remind of inferiority, failure. People relish rumors (m and f) and harm (m) if this is activated. Better response if perceived as cooperative or lower status. Tendency to react this way even if negative implications for self. Can be brought on by education (TV show, radio, workshop).

Helpful Only in the Abstract? - Jacquie Voraruer et al - Confusing article. But it is about the different ways people react to intergroup interactions, when empathy is involved (versus detached objectivity). While intergroup contact can have salutary effects, and so can empathy, both together can activate 'metastereotypes.' The paper didn't make the finding very clear.

What Motivates Participation in Violent Political Action - Jeremy Ginges et al - (Setting: Israel-Palestine) People do violent these actions not for monetary gain ("selective private incentives") and recoil from the suggestion of compensation for acts (family compensated), recoil increases with amount suggested. Also, it is less objectionable to delay a suicide attack to take care of an ill father than to save an entire family from a probably counterattack (moral obligations factor into decisions). There could, however, be some posturing, and considerations of reputation and status could be valued, or the narratives believed by the subjects answering may "imply not be true."

"For values to influence behavior, they must first be primed or activated and also be of central importance." and willingness to act violently correlated strongly, it seems, with conservatism scores.

Identity Work and Collective Action in a Repressive Context - Rachel Einwohner - (Setting: Warsaw Ghetto journals) Jews only acted against Germans when it became very clear they were going to die anyway, despite conditions. Gave up identity of "We are non-violent people" in taking on violence. Calls for violence strongest among young activists from a umber of political organizations and youth movements that pre-dated the war, which became 2 resistance organizations when debates turned towards violence. The article is mainly, though, about "identity work," "emotion work" in a forced (not freely chosen) setting.

  pageloads since August 19 2017