How to Change Minds? The Art of Arguing
|November 26, 2013||Posted by Staff under Social Change|
This 2013 excerpt of Pacific Standard, Aug 23, is by Eric Horowitz.
There could be an entire book of syndicated newspaper columns that discuss “motivated reasoning” —- the tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms your existing beliefs. But research on human motivation also hints at a simpler and somewhat startling reason for the lack of flip-flopping: Nobody makes the type of arguments that are likely to change minds.
The arguments people make are those that appear the strongest to themselves and the people who already agree with them. But such arguments tend to be meaningless to people who disagree.
It starts with the universal desire to protect against threats to your self-image or self-worth. People are driven to view themselves in a positive light, and they will interpret information and take action in ways that preserve that view. The need to maintain self-worth is one reason we attribute our failures to external factors (bad luck), but our success to internal factors (skill.)
The arguments that are most threatening to opponents are viewed as the strongest and cited most often — yet rejected.
Because political beliefs are connected to deeply held values, information about politics can be very threatening to your self-image. If you’re wrong about an important policy, what else might you be wrong about? And if you’re wrong about a bunch of things, you’re obviously not as smart or as good or as worthwhile a person as you previously believed. These are painful thoughts, and so we evaluate information in ways that will help us to avoid them.
Self-affirmation —- a mental exercise that increases feelings of self-worth —- makes people more willing to accept threatening information. The idea is that by raising or “affirming” your self-worth, you can then encounter things that lower your self-worth without a net decrease. The affirmation and the threat effectively cancel each other out, and a positive image is maintained.
An argument that is objectively weaker is more likely to be below the threat threshold that leads to automatic rejection. It might actually be considered.
Ed. Notes: People who love arguing might need to learn to love winning more, if they can put winning a better world above “winning” an argument.