How to get others to see your point of view . . .
HoW do you change someone’s mind? it doesn’t matter how many facts you present to them, or how much evidence you give to show that they’re wrong, most of the time you’ll be unsuccessful.
it’s a phenomenon that has long baffled psychologists because it makes no sense. our great intellectual capabilities are supposed to give us the capacity to assess and evaluate evidence and come up with a rational conclusion. Yet, time and again, this is shown to be not the case.
For those working in public health, this has important consequences.
take the mmR vaccine scandal. Although the link between the vaccine and autism has been categorically disproved — and despite the fact that the doctor who undertook the research that suggested it was struck off in 2010, and the journal that published his research also retracted it — the idea that the mmR vaccine can be dangerous persists in some people’s minds.
they simply refuse to believe the overwhelming evidence and still think the vaccine is risky. the impact of this is serious, even life threatening. Just this week, Public health england warned parents to have their children vaccinated as an outbreak of measles has swept through europe. And measles, let me remind you, can kill.
those who refuse to have their children vaccinated have formulated a belief that vaccines are bad — and changing this idea would be a fundamental threat to their sense of identity.
For psychologists now think that what we call ‘reason’ has nothing to do with facts and rational thought, but is a mechanism to help humans better exploit their uniquely rich social environment.
Reason evolved to help us justify ourselves and to convince others, which is essential for cooperation and communication. it makes us feel part of a group — and the group needs to be defended against whatever threatens it: in this case, facts.
We maintain this by ‘ confirmation bias’, embracing information that supports our position and rejecting any which challenges it.
the problem is rife. take, for example, Brexit — a topic that immediately polarises people and is ripe for confirmation bias.
one such claim about Brexit is that since the 2016 vote, the NhS has suffered a recruitment crisis as eU staff have left in droves. this is repeated ad nauseam. NoW
Brexit may or may not be good for the NhS, only time will tell. But on this point we can check, because it’s a clear fact. And, indeed, the NhS’s statistics show the overall number of eU citizens working in the health service has actually grown since the Brexit vote.
While it’s true about 10,000 have left, over the same period 13,000 have come here to work, meaning there’s a net increase of 3,000.
Yet will these clear facts change people’s minds? Absolutely not. on a radio chat show, i heard a doctor arguing against Brexit, saying that eU staff were leaving.
the presenter explained this wasn’t the case and quoted the figures. Yet the doctor refused to concede. ‘it’s what people have told me,’ came the recalcitrant reply. You could hear the doctor becoming more entrenched.
So what’s the answer? Well, studies have identified a technique that increases the likelihood of someone changing their mind.
if we remember that refusing to do so is based on unconsciously not wanting to feel apart from a group, and the anxiety about being isolated, then to change someone’s mind they have to feel relaxed to counter these feelings.
Researchers found that asking someone to recall in detail an event when they felt happy, and then presenting facts that challenged their current view, helped change their mind.
Arguing is only going to make them batten down the hatches, even when they’re clearly wrong. So to change someone’s mind, you need to help them feel happy.
A lovely piece of research this week suggests that keeping a journal is good for mental health. It shows that people who write about their experiences, particularly negative ones, manage stress better and feel happier. I know this from first-hand...