How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail
(Why worldview threats undermine evidence)
Have you ever noticed that when you present people with facts that are
contrary to their deepest held beliefs they always change their minds? Me
neither. In fact, people seem to double down on their beliefs in the teeth
of overwhelming evidence against them. The reason is related to the
worldview perceived to be under threat by the conflicting data.
In a series of experiments by Dartmouth College professor Brendan Nyhan and
University of Exeter professor Jason Reifler, the researchers identify a
related factor they call the backfire effect in which corrections actually
increase misperceptions among the group in question. Why? Because it
threatens their worldview or self-concept. ...
If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people
of the error of their beliefs? From my experience, 1. keep emotions out of
the exchange, 2. discuss, don't attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum), 3.
listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately, 4. show
respect, 5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that
opinion, and 6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean
changing worldviews. These strategies may not always work to change people's