How to get others to see your point of view . . .

Daily Mail - - Confidential - DrMax@dai­ly­

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...

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