Avoid The ‘Backfire Effect’ In An Argument By Appealing To Worldviews

Avoid The ‘Backfire Effect’ In An Argument By Appealing To Worldviews

Presenting someone with facts is never guaranteed to change someone’s mind. In fact, contrary evidence can actually make people more convinced of their viewpoint. In that case, appeal to their worldview, rather than just fight on the facts.

Photo by Ayana T. Miller.

As science reporting site Scientific American explains, people are more likely to double-down on their worldview when presented with contrary evidence than to abandon their ideas entirely. On an individual level, this makes sense. You’re not likely to give up everything you believe in just because a random person on the internet argued otherwise, so why should anyone else? However, that can make it difficult if someone’s worldview is getting in the way of facts. In those cases, certain arguments can backfire if you don’t consider the other person’s perspective.

To combat this, the site recommends not just debating the facts of an argument, but to explain the perspective from the other person’s viewpoint. For example, you may not be religious, but you can accept that the other person is and use that as a starting point for an argument, instead of negating their beliefs because they don’t fit your own case:

In these examples, proponents’ deepest held worldviews were perceived to be threatened by sceptics, making facts the enemy to be slayed. This power of belief over evidence is the result of two factors: cognitive dissonance and the backfire effect. In the classic 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, psychologist Leon Festinger and his co-authors described what happened to a UFO cult when the mother ship failed to arrive at the appointed time. Instead of admitting error, “members of the group sought frantically to convince the world of their beliefs,” and they made “a series of desperate attempts to erase their rankling dissonance by making prediction after prediction in the hope that one would come true.” Festinger called this cognitive dissonance, or the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to give up your ideas, or even treat something wrong as though it’s right. You’ll eventually come across someone whose entire worldview is wrong and you can’t do much about that. However, finding common ground will be a better starting point for persuasion than simply calling someone an idiot because they misinterpreted a few facts.

How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail [Scientific American]

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