Why is it so hard to change people’s minds?

It’s Thanksgiving, your family is gathered uncomfortably around the turkey, and your uncle is loudly lecturing you about why climate change is a complete myth perpetuated by socialist radicals.  You, in turn, present a well-reasoned response complete with hard facts and clear examples showing the scientific consensus that climate change is, in  fact, happening right now (as torrential rain pours down outside).  Your uncle is unmoved; why won’t he change his mind?

“Addiction specialists figured out a long time ago that lecturing an addict about all the terrible things drugs and alcohol can do is unlikely to work” … unlikely to “scare them into taking action to curb their addiction.”

Why?  And, what has this to do with your uncle and his opinion about climate change or vaccinations and autism or the health benefits of radium or trickle-down economics or the motives and accomplishments of a politician, etc.?

People do not abuse drugs or alcohol “because of rational thought processes, the reward value of substances for addicts is overwhelming and the suffering from substance withdrawal is intolerable.”  The brain regions involved “are the basis for habit and emotion, not reason.”

So, what about your uncle?  “It turns out that holding onto an irrational idea that is the basis for membership in a group functions much in the same way as an addictive drug.”  Agreeing with the group beings reward (increased dopamine release).  Defying the group “stimulates many of the same brain regions that fire during drug withdrawal.”

So, even though evidence piles up against a belief–and a rational response would be to reconsider an opinion–it is very hard for an individual to do that especially if the belief is deeply held, or for another person to cause that to happen.

But, there are techniques that have worked “to help addicts change their behavior” and may work to convince people to change their minds.

Read the article (Sara Gorman and Jack M. Gorman, Psychology Today, November 7, 2017).

For more information about psychology, the impacts of social media, and technological deception, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

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