Using rational argument to change minds

I have a longer piece in the latest issue of Contributoria: What’s the evidence on using rational argument to change people’s minds? Here’s a few snips from the opening:

Are we, the human species, unreasonable? Do rational arguments have any power to sway us, or is it all intuition, hidden motivations, and various other forms of prejudice?

…the picture of human rationality painted by our profession can seem pretty bleak. Every week I hear about a new piece of research which shows up some quirk of our minds, like the one about people given a heavy clip board judge public issues as more important than people given a light clip board. Or that more attractive people are judged as more trustworthy, or they arguments they give as more intelligent.

…I set out to get to the bottom of the evidence on how we respond to rational arguments. Does rationality lose out every time to irrational motivations? Or is there any hope to those of us who want to persuade because we have good arguments, not because we are handsome, or popular, or offer heavy clipboards.

You can read the full thing here, and while you’re over there check out the rest of the the Contributoria site – all of the articles on which are published under a CC license and commissioned by members. On which note, a massive thanks to everyone who backed my proposal and offered comments (see previous announcements). Special thanks to Josie and Dan for giving close readings to the piece before it was finished.



  1. Posted May 6, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Shane O'Mara's Blog and commented:
    Super piece on resistance to disconfirmation of strongly-held beliefs. The newsis not all bad: minds can be changed, subject to specific and special conditions.

  2. Posted May 6, 2014 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Giving specifics instead of numbers (like the HIV example) that’s great information that individuals can actually apply. Thanks.

    Interesting about the clipboard-type studies. My favorite was when people were more likely to believe in global warming when it was hot outside.

    The other findings on rationality and global warming are tricky since it’s so complex and challenging for most people to grasp. This is why the more educated can find fault because it’s easy to find statistical gaps and flaws in complex research. Anyway, great article. (ps affect-v effect-n)

  3. Nelie
    Posted May 8, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Great review of the research relevant to this. Glad to see the Cialdini research on the importance of involvement, and strong arguments, resurrected. However it gets complex when you start looking at different types of involvement. The Cialdini manipulation of involvement essentially manipulated self-interest, but people may also be extremely involved in an issue that doesn’t affect them in terms of outcomes but contradicts their moral beliefs, which is probably when biased processing of even strong arguments begins and is why Haidt’s research is so important.

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