How You Can Change Someone’s Mind -- Facts Alone Won’t Do It

How, You Can Change Someone’s Mind. But Facts Alone Won’t Do ItJustine Lee, standing far right, said she created the Make America Dinner Again group after becoming disheartened by the polarizing language of the 2016 election. A host organizes a small dinner, and guests with differing political views sign up for respectful conversation and guided activities. Photo by Maykel Loomans.

Here’s something fascinating about stories that recount a major change of heart. Like the one of C.P. Ellis, a White member of the KKK, and Ann Atwater, a Black community activist, who in 1971 were thrown together as co-chairs of a group focused on school desegregation in Durham, North Carolina. Initially mistrustful of one another, they soon saw how much they had in common. Eventually, Ellis renounced his Klan membership and the two became close friends.

Or the one about John Robbins, the animal rights activist, who tells of visiting a pig farmer who housed his livestock in cramped, inhumane conditions. Over dinner and conversation, the farmer—a stoic, rigid man—broke down, remembering his grief over having to kill a pet pig as a child. Eventually, Robbins reports, the man abandoned pig farming altogether.

What brings about these kind of deep changes?

We all have closely held beliefs that form the basis of much of our thinking and actions. What does it take to shift them—and how can others facilitate the process?

I’m asking this as we enter the 2020 campaign season and a presidential election that is probably the most significant in a generation. Sure, it’s important to respect others’ opinions; none of us has the corner on the truth, and we can have wildly different ideas about which policies are best for the country. But racism, sexism, xenophobia, meanness, hate? No. Those are never acceptable responses.

So whether you’re talking to your Trump-loving father-in-law, a neighbor who repeats Fox News talking points about “criminal” children detained at the border, or a friend from college who’s been grumbling about “welfare freeloaders,” it’s fair to try and change their minds.

The question is, how?


 Get The Latest From InnerSelf


First, don’t look to facts to do the trick, researchers say. As compelling as they may be, facts aren’t how we fundamentally build our opinions. “People think they think like scientists, but they really think a lot like attorneys,” says Pete Ditto, a professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine. That is, rather than developing our beliefs based on the best available facts, most of us decide what we believe and then select the facts that support it. So when we hear arguments that don’t align with our beliefs, we tend to disregard them.

That’s because we develop our beliefs through our feelings, not our brains. And that’s how we’re changed as well: by connecting with others and having an emotional experience.

The most basic way to shift someone’s thinking, particularly about a specific population, is to put them in a mixed group—a concept that’s known in psychology circles as the contact hypothesis. Developed in 1954 by social psychologist Gordon Allport and widely accepted, the hypothesis states that under certain conditions, interpersonal contact is the best way to reduce prejudice between members of a group. In 2006, researchers Thomas Pettigrew and Linda Tropp convincingly showed that Allport’s conditions weren’t actually necessary; mixing between groups could reduce prejudice even if all of Allport’s conditions weren’t met. And the positive effect of contact grows stronger with closer relationships.

“The more contact we have, the less anxious we feel about being with people who are different from us, and the more able we are to empathize with them in terms of what they’re going through,” explains Tropp, who is now a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and continues to focus on the topic.

It’s a particularly significant finding today, when many of us live in segregated societies with people who look and think and earn just like we do. If we don’t interact with people who are different from us, we increasingly rely on stereotypes to explain them.

We develop our beliefs through our feelings, not our brains. And that’s how we’re changed as well: by connecting with others and having an emotional experience.

“Because it’s not based on our personal experience, those other people are too easily regarded as irrelevant to us,” explains Tropp. “But what happens when we get to know other groups personally is they start to matter to us; they’re no longer abstract ideas to us. And once we see them as fully human, we begin to see that they deserve the same treatment that we get.”

One answer, then, is to befriend people who disagree with you and connect folks who might not otherwise meet. Or encourage others to join you in reaching out to different groups of people—through civic or religious organizations, social activities, or community efforts.

But it’s also possible to take a more active role in aiming to change someone’s mind, using conversation. The approach, though, is key: if they’re on the defensive, people generally won’t shift their positions. So, that means those vicious Twitter debates aren’t budging anyone.

Instead, says Justine Lee, “it’s about really developing trust between two people: hearing each other out, internalizing what’s being said before making judgments.” Lee’s organization, Make America Dinner Again (MADA), was established in the wake of the 2016 presidential election and brings together liberals and conservatives over a two-and-a-half to three-hour dinner. The group focuses on increasing understanding, not changing minds, but the process is similar.

Lee, like other leaders of similar groups, emphasizes that building a personal connection is a crucial step in cultivating a productive conversation. After all, people’s beliefs, no matter how abhorrent, usually come from an emotional place. We may forget that in the heat of the moment, but treating someone respectfully—asking questions, truly listening to the answers, and talking about our own feelings—will be vastly more productive.

“I think the best way to change minds is to see each other’s humanity,” says Joan Blades, co-founder of Living Room Conversations, an open-source group that, like MADA, gathers Democrats and Republicans for dialogue. “I often talk about attitudes softening”—on both sides—“when we understand why people feel the way they do.”

Lee tells a story of two men who forged an unlikely friendship over a series of dinners hosted by MADA. One was an older White Trump supporter; the other was a liberal trans man who’d been adopted from Korea. They bonded over fatherhood and similarities in their backgrounds. And because of that connection, they were able to discuss more loaded issues, like Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally that had occurred shortly before one of the dinners.

“It was clear they didn’t agree, but they were hugging each other,” says Lee. The older man said he’d never met someone who was transgender—and while he probably wasn’t going to change his fundamental stance, Lee says, knowing the younger man had obviously affected his outlook. “It’s a reminder that humans are nuanced and complex,” says Lee. “As soon as you meet someone, there are things that can soften your thinking about them.”

A narrative can be a powerful way to shift someone’s thinking. The Richmond, Virginia, chapter of Coming to the Table, a national organization aimed at dismantling racism, hosts film and book clubs and has found them to be particularly useful.

“People, in my experience, are changed more by stories than they are by arguments,” says Marsha Summers, one of the book club’s leaders. Her co-leader, Cheryl Goode, agrees: “I think real changing of minds happens because we learn the perspective of other people.”

One new method combines all of those elements—contact, trust, and storytelling—to explicitly, successfully change minds. Deep canvassing is a door-to-door technique developed in 2015 that’s been proven to shift opinions on particular issues, with effects that last for months. Rather than running from house to house with a 60-second script, canvassers engage respondents in longer conversations: asking about residents’ link to the issue at hand, talking honestly about their own experiences, and connecting on shared fundamental values.

“We’re trying to really understand what motivates [voters],” says Adam Barbanel-Fried. Barbanel-Fried is the director of Changing the Conversation Together (CTC), an organization that’s ramping up to train and lead a national corps of deep canvassers supporting Democratic candidates. For that, he says, “we find storytelling to be the most effective tool: to offer a little bit of vulnerability and show the voter that we’re not going to judge them. It’s through those kind of stories that you get people opening up.”

Barbanel-Fried says he’s stood in doorways and talked about his family’s experiences with anti-Semitism—and in response, residents have often responded with their own jarring stories of encountering hate or xenophobia. Many, at the end of a conversation, report that they’re now more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate who supports civil liberties.

But that specific outcome isn’t the only one that matters, says Carol Smolenski, a dedicated CTC volunteer. “Even if I wasn’t able to get someone to say that I’d moved them down the scale to be more likely to vote for a Democrat, I had a feeling that I certainly gave them something to think about that they haven’t thought about.”

That’s the thing about changing minds: it might not happen right away. But even if you don’t see an obvious, immediate change, hardcore beliefs may already have begun to crumble.

And that’s a start. 

About The Author

Amanda Abrams is a freelance writer who focuses on gentrification, poverty, and religion.

This article originally appeared on YES! Magazine


Remember Your Future
on the 3rd of November

Uncle Sam style Smokey Bear Only You.jpg

Learn about the issues and what's at stake in the November 3, 2020 US Presidential election.

Too soon? Don't bet on it. Forces are conniving to stop you from having a say in your future.

This is the big one and this election may be for ALL the marbles. Turn away at your peril.

Only You Can Prevent 'Future' Theft

Follow InnerSelf.com's
"Remember Your Future" coverage


You May Also Like

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfifrdehiiditjakomsnofaptruessvtrvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

First name:E-mail:
 

{emailcloak=off}

DAILY INSPIRATION

Daily Inspiration: March 7, 2021
Daily Inspiration: March 7, 2021
Our culture has relegated aging to the closet. It is not something to be discussed, or even done,…
citizen of the world dress
Daily Inspiration: March 6, 2021
It is said that when someone asked Socrates what country he was from, his response was "of the…
Daily Inspiration: March 5, 2021
Daily Inspiration: March 5, 2021
There's no need to run away, or run to others for answers. Close your eyes and talk to your Self...

INNERSELF VOICES

We Create Our Own Reality By How We See and Interpret Things
We Create Our Own Reality By How We See and Interpret Things
by Pierre Pradervand
How I see my life path is a choice I make minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day… And this…
How to Walk for Health, Fitness, and Peace of Mind
How to Walk for Health, Fitness, and Peace of Mind
by James Endredy
For most people, walking is an activity that requires no thought or intention -- it is rarely even…
Young girl sitting surrounded by lots of book of various colors
How to Recognize Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
by Thom Hartmann
ADHD is not an all-or-nothing diagnosis. There appears to be a curve of behaviors and personality…
How To Recognize Your Core Negative Beliefs and Inner Critic
How To Recognize Your Core Negative Beliefs and Inner Critic
by Bridgit Dengel Gaspard
You may not think you have a core negative belief, but if you’re mysteriously stuck, one or two…
Scrabble letters that spell out: NO HATE
Vaccination or No Vaccination? That Is Not the Question Here...
by Joyce Vissell
This is not an article about the benefits of getting a vaccination. Nor is it an article about not…
heart shape filled with various colors
Quiz: What’s Your Risk of Heart Disease? and What To Do About It
by Maryon Stewart
If you answered yes to more than three questions, I would highly recommend that you follow the…
two balls balanced on top of each other under an arch
Attaining Balance Between Left and Right-Brain by Nourishing the Solar Plexus Chakra
by Glen Park
Aspiration and achievement, power and success, and fame and fortune are presented as highly…
Photo of aurora and moon by Markus Varik on February 22, 2021, Tromsø Norway
Horoscope Current Week: March 1 - 7, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…

MOST READ

silhouette of a woman's head and it is disintegrating
Letting Go of All Perceived Pain, Ignorance, and Fear
by Alexis I. Jordan
Thank you, infinite goodness, for your bounteous gifts, including peace, love, freedom and joy,…
picture of colorful fireworks in the sky
Cancer Meditation and Cancer Medication: A Powerful Combination
by Joyce Whiteley Hawkes
Each cell has its own biological clock that controls its individual rate of repair, replication,…
Emotions and Your Moon Sign
How To Deal with Your Emotions According To Your Moon Sign
by Donna Cunningham
The Moon, in the astrological chart, can help us understand how we deal with our emotions. It shows…
heart shape filled with various colors
Quiz: What’s Your Risk of Heart Disease? and What To Do About It
by Maryon Stewart
If you answered yes to more than three questions, I would highly recommend that you follow the…
Why Creating Art With Your Children Is Important
Why Creating Art With Your Children Is Important
by Vicky Armstrong
Many of us may be looking to art activities to keep children busy while at home. If you are, I want…
First Aid Buttons: Regulate The Body's Energy Flow and Improve Your Health
First Aid Buttons: Regulate The Body's Energy Flow and Improve Your Health
by Barry Sultanoff, MD.
We came into this world with special "buttons" pre-installed. These "buttons" are specific spots on…
two balls balanced on top of each other under an arch
Attaining Balance Between Left and Right-Brain by Nourishing the Solar Plexus Chakra
by Glen Park
Aspiration and achievement, power and success, and fame and fortune are presented as highly…
women peering through an opening in a dark wall
Nourishing the Sunrise of Peace with Love and Music
by Christopher Grosso
Yes, love your brother. Yes, live in harmony with nature. But first and foremost, pave the way for…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.