Research on persuading people with strongly held beliefs

CT has an article reporting on some studies about effective persuasion.

They highlight a study about how difficult it is to argue someone out of a position that is tied to their core identity or beliefs.

[quote] There were two major findings from this study. First, when math-savvy liberals were presented with the data that showed the gun violence prevention policies to be ineffective, they were more likely to get the answer wrong, compared with their answers to the skin cream problem. The same pattern was found among math-savvy conservatives in the opposite circumstances. Second, researchers found that people who were better at math were 45 percentage points more likely to get the answer right when it fit with their ideology, compared to a 25 percentage point difference among people with weaker math skills.

The takeaway? People have a tendency to reason with data not to get the right answer, but to get the answer they prefer to be right. And people with strong math skills were the most likely to have this bias.

The theory underlying this work—known as identity protective cognition—can be summarized this way: People’s defense mechanisms kick in when they feel their identity and core values are being threatened, and it can lead them to subconsciously resist information that conflicts with their beliefs.[/quote]

The article brought up research into empathetic listening and questioning as a persuasion technique.

However, if people already have well-developed opinions or beliefs on an issue, this approach doesn’t work.

Obviously a lot of arguing and attempts at persuading people with strongly held beliefs goes on here. I thought the article had good reminders that facts and data are usually not sufficient to get people to re-evaluate strongly held positions, but empathy, listening, and asking questions can open minds.

Also, it made me wonder what “moral values” of YEC Christians we could use to frame the origins discussion in a more potentially persuasive way. Any ideas on that?

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Thanks for the link to the article, Christy. Very interesting and very relevant.

In my own experience, the need for some individuals to preserve their “right to be right” is so deeply entrenched in their neural networks that no force on Earth is able to dislodge it. I’ve finally come to conclusion that for these individuals, their “right to be right” is almost a form of breath, and part of the brain fears it will die if this perceived right is in any undermined.

I know this sounds quite extreme, but if you stop to reflect on it, you’ll probably be able to come up with a short list of people who can’t tolerate the idea that they might be wrong. Further, you’ve likely seen the extreme lengths to which they’ll go to preserve their “rightness.”

One of Christianity’s great gifts to the world is Jesus’ teachings on the reality that no human being actually has the “right to be right.” God gives us the right to learn, the right to love and be loved, the right to forgive and be forgiven, the right to change and be transformed through our relationships and experiences, and the right to believe in our worthiness as God’s children (all of which are described in various parts of the Bible). But nowhere, outside A.N.E. Wisdom literature and its modern analogues does God ever say we have the right to be right.

When we accept our human limitations and learn to admit our own mistakes, we create much less suffering in the world.

I think the only approach to dealing with ideologues of any stripe is to hold your ground, maintain your empathy, be as patient as you can be, and most importantly don’t give up your own moral values in an attempt to appease or placate. The morality that Jesus taught was a morality based on putting a “light leash” (as opposed to a “harsh leash”) on the free will God gives to everyone. Part of the “light leash” is the willingness to choose to give up your “right to be right” so that, in exchange, you can be open to change and learning and maturity with God’s ongoing help.

Sometimes people just have to figure this out for themselves.

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I once got in a big long discussion with someone about whether “rights” were a biblical concept or not. In anycase, it seems pretty clear to me we are to focus on defending the rights of others not our own. Growing up, my parents always said, “It’s more important to be kind than to be right.” I say the same thing to my kids.


I’m thinkin’ this is probably the answer (or at least one important part of the answer) to the question you raised above.

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