Facts Don’t Change People’s Minds. Here’s What Does
“When my information changes, I change my mind”, is an oft quoted statement, usually attributed to economist John Keynes. But Keynes clearly is an outlier. Confirmation bias makes people ignore data or information that counters their beliefs, and no matter how hard you try, your arguments, based on facts, will usually have no effect. This piece suggests ways to avoid falling into most common traps that make you close your mind to new information and keep reinforcing your beliefs, no matter how flawed those might be.
The author says, “Drowning the other person with facts, I assumed, was the best way to prove that global warming is real, the war on drugs has failed, or the current business strategy adopted by your risk-averse boss with zero imagination is not working. Since then, I’ve discovered a significant problem with this approach. It doesn’t work.”
As a result of the well-documented confirmation bias, we tend to undervalue evidence that contradicts our beliefs and overvalue evidence that confirms them. We filter out inconvenient truths and arguments on the opposing side. As a result, our opinions solidify, and it becomes increasingly harder to disrupt established patterns of thinking.
The author suggests 4 ways to help you change your, or the other person’s mind.
Give the mind an out – We’re reluctant to acknowledge mistakes. The key is to trick the mind by giving it an excuse. Convince your own mind (or your friend) that your prior decision or prior belief was the right one given what you knew, but now that the underlying facts have changed, so should the mind.
Your beliefs are not you – When your beliefs are entwined with your identity, changing your mind means changing your identity. A possible solution, and one that I’ve adopted in my own life, is to put a healthy separation between you and the products of you. At conferences, instead of saying, “In this paper, I argue . . .,” I began to say “This paper argues . . .”
Build up your empathy muscle – If employment is the primary concern of the Detroit auto worker, showing him images of endangered penguins (as adorable as they may be) or Antarctica’s melting glaciers will get you nowhere. Instead, show him how renewable energy will provide job security to his grandchildren. Now, you’ve got his attention.
Get out of your echo chamber – This means our opinions aren’t being stress tested nearly as frequently as they should. Make a point to befriend people who disagree with you. Expose yourself to environments where your opinions can be challenged, as uncomfortable and awkward as that might be.