Ask the grumpies: How to change hearts and minds with Science

Jenny F. Scientist asks:

How to reach closed-minded usually far right wing students with science.

Here’s an economics paper that supposedly addresses that question (click here for an early, free version):

Galperti, Simone. 2019.”Persuasion: The Art of Changing Worldviews.” American Economic Review 109(3):996-1031

Abstract: Persuaders often face the task of changing their listeners’ worldview, which may involve conveying evidence that disconfirms that view. It has been shown, however, that people are often reluctant to change their worldviews. These aspects of persuasion cannot be captured in the standard Bayesian framework. The paper identifies the constraints, opportunities, and trade-offs of persuading people to change worldview. It finds necessary and sufficient conditions under which it is optimal for persuaders to do so. It also shows when and how they conceal disconfirming evidence and take advantage of their listener’s existing worldview.

Not a ton of practical information there.

The things I’ve seen recommended have been:

1.  Not disagreeing, but asking questions until the person starts to question it themselves.  This is a little tougher than it used to be because Fox News has glib answers to the surface questions that feel right because they’ve been repeated so many times, but continuing to probe deeper until the contradictions come out helps.  I’m not finding a link on this, but I have seen it talked about as something that has been tested.

2.  A three pronged approach:

An approach that starts by coming out with common ground .  You validate things they believe, make them feel listened to and like you have something in common.  Then you give alternatives– I notice in the link here the examples they give start with questions.  Only then do you provide proof.  In pre-Trump days when I taught Public Finance, I was able to get Libertarians to understand that feeding children is an investment in smaller government later.  (Nowadays the Libertarians I get are Libertarian In Name Only– and it’s really hard to reason with Social Conservatives who hate women and minorities.)

3.  A third thing that I’ve seen on forums but have not actually seen anybody talk about scientifically (probably because it’s a different part of psychology) is not focusing on the hard-core people at all, but focusing on the folks that are easily swayed.  This is likely to alienate the core close-minded people, but may “save” more people.  I don’t think I would do this with college students though because they’re so young and are probably more reachable than the main nutcases on the closed anti-vaxxer sub-forums of mommy boards.

4.  Convince people who believe things because they’re conspiracy theorists that there’s a conspiracy to get them to believe these horrible things.  That turns out to not be that hard to do because IT IS TRUE (see:  Russian bots).  The last part of this article talks about that technique in conjunction with anti-vaxxers and I’ve seen anecdotal evidence from doctors that it often works with their more paranoid patients.

Grumpy Nation, have you ever been able to convince a close-minded person of anything?

One Response to “Ask the grumpies: How to change hearts and minds with Science”

  1. Debbie M Says:

    Not that I can remember, but I did hear some interesting stories about my dad around his funeral. His superpower was optimism, which ended up meaning he was often late–to meetings, with bill payments, etc. He once told Mom that she was the most pessimistic person he knew. (She learned to check, when she got home from work, whether the power and water were on.) Then recently he met an actual pessimistic person. He and other members of their congregation tried to help her in many ways but she was so negative and unpleasant that even my dad started avoiding her. Then he admitted to Mom that Mom was not so pessimistic after all. I wouldn’t exactly call my dad a close-minded person, but showing something even more extreme could be another strategy. Similarly, supposedly one of the ways to get people to quit smoking is to make them dig their hands through ashtrays for a while and they get too disgusted to want to smoke anymore.

    My dad even changed his mind about Trump. I’m not sure how or why, but apparently the lies got to be too much (and Mom was there pointing them out). Most politicians lie, so I can see where it could take a lot to realize that this is an unacceptable amount and degree of lying.

    I wonder if addressing the underlying worldview and presenting another way to reconcile that with the new ideas you want them to accept could help. I guess that ‘s part of starting with common ground and part of the alternate conspiracy theory strategy.


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