When you know someone who holds a different position than you have on an issue, your instinct may be to try to change their mind. You have strong feelings about the topic and think the facts are on your side. You would think facts, evidence, and statistics should be able to sway someone from one position to another.
After all, what could be more persuasive than evidence? But you can’t change people’s minds with facts alone. Facts often fail to convince people of anything.
Believe it or not, facts can have the opposite effect – people are more likely to believe something if they already agree with it than if they don’t. So, what does work when trying to change people’s minds?
The good news is that there are ways you can influence other people with your arguments – but only if you understand why facts don’t usually work in the first place. Read on to understand the psychology behind why people think what they think and why facts alone won’t convince them to change their minds.
Why You Can’t Change People’s Minds
Research reveals that each of us tends to form our opinions based on the people around us. The people who live in your neighborhood, go to your church, or grew up in your family impact how you view the world.
For example, if you try to convince a conservative of a more liberal view, they are likely to respond with something like, “My church doesn’t support that, so I don’t either.” In other words, they are not making decisions based on facts or evidence – they are making them based on their social group’s opinions.
Because of this, many people hold false beliefs that facts cannot change. So, if you know someone who doesn’t change their mind when presented with facts, you may need to introduce them to people who already hold the beliefs you would like them to consider.
People Believe Things for Psychological Reasons
If you want to change someone’s mind, don’t start with facts – start with their psychology. When we try to change someone’s mind, we tend to focus on what facts we believe will work. But facts don’t always convince people to change their minds.
Psychology research reveals that people are much more likely to believe something if they already agree with it. The brain uses heuristics – mental shortcuts – to decide whether to believe something.
The problem with mental shortcuts is that they don’t always work. For example, if you like to eat at a certain restaurant and someone says they think the restaurant is bad, you may disagree with them because you’ve eaten there before and liked the food.
Psychologists call the availability heuristic: we decide whether something is true based on how fast we can think of an example. And facts aren’t examples, which are often imprecise, misleading, or irrelevant.
People tend to Seek Out Information That Confirms Their Beliefs.
When scientists explore how the brain processes information, they find that contrary to popular belief, it’s not rational – it’s irrational. Your brain tries to make sense of the world, but it does so in an unorganized and messy way.
We don’t tend to take the world thoughtfully or methodically. Instead, we’re like sponges that soak up everything around us. When we read something, watch a video, or listen to someone speak, we don’t thoughtfully process the information – we swallow it whole.
This is how confirmation bias influences our thinking. Because we don’t take care to examine information. We’re more likely to believe things that already fit our beliefs.
This is why facts don’t change our minds. If you want to change someone’s mind, but they only seek out information that confirms their beliefs, you can’t just shove facts at them. You have to show them examples of where their beliefs don’t match the facts.
Confirmation Bias Means We Rarely Change Our Minds
If you’ve ever tried to change someone’s mind and failed, it’s because you undoubtedly encountered confirmation bias. Confirmation bias makes people very unlikely to change their minds once they’ve decided.
This isn’t to say that no one ever changes their minds – it’s just that most people don’t. Research shows that when people are confronted with information that contradicts their beliefs, they either ignore it or try to reinterpret it in a way that makes it fit with their existing beliefs.
The most effective way to change someone’s mind is to understand how they think – and then change their thought process. You can’t simply present facts and hope that they fit with this person’s existing beliefs. Instead, you have to figure out how they think and shift their thought process so that the facts fit into the equation.
Facts Don’t Change People’s Minds; Here’s What Does
If you understand how people form their beliefs and think about information, you can start to see how you can change their minds. When trying to convince someone, you must take a detailed look at their thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
If you want to convince someone that a fact is real, don’t start by talking about graphs and statistics. Start by talking to them about their feelings and emotions about the subject.
Most people are concerned about certain topics, and you can use this to your advantage. If they say they’re worried about something, then you could offer them information about the latest research.
You can challenge their thoughts and emotions if they say they aren’t worried about the subject. Ask them why they don’t think the facts presented are real, and you may be able to show them their own confirmation bias.
Don’t Change People
If you want to know how to change people’s opinions, don’t try to change them as a person. Instead, try to understand them. Try to shift how they think about information so that the facts make sense.
You could try to change their mind by showing them graphs and statistics – but you’re more likely to succeed if you challenge their beliefs and feelings instead. Don’t try to change your friend – try to change how they think.
Understand the Positions of Others
As you’ve learned, you can’t change people’s minds by shoving facts in their faces. You must understand their position and be patient with them as they think about your position on the matter.
The reason why facts don’t change our minds is that we hold fast to our belief system. It takes time to convince us to see things in a different light.