Changing someone’s mind

      5 Comments on Changing someone’s mind

First of all, I just want to say that whenever you see text that is bold and underlined like this, you should mouse-hover. Those are some extra thoughts, additional details, or just any extra information that I felt didn’t fit with the flow of the sentence. Just like the title text in all original images on this blog.

credit: xkcd

The human mind is a pretty huge mystery. We see patterns, we successfully predict what it is going to do sometimes, and we are slowly but surely mapping it from observations only with psychology, while trying very hard to reverse engineer it. The thing is, it’s harder and harder to believe we are rational. Just look at Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases. There are 174 today, and there is no reason to think the list will stop growing now. That’s a lot of different ways to be irrational.

One of the most interesting biases, according to me, is the Backfire Effect. Basically, the more you believe in something, the more likely you are to, upon hearing evidence against your belief, actually believe it even more.

backfire effect

I’ve been thinking about it. Being a smart guy, I figured that I was at least rational enough to avoid the least logical biases. I’m probably able to accept new information and change my mind, right? If someone offers actual evidence that I was wrong about something, then I can stop being wrong by changing my position. Can I? The more I think about it, the more scary it is. Was there ever a time I actually changed my mind on a topic in which I had strong beliefs? Every single time I can recall, the topic was really not very important to me. I was either neutral and didn’t take a side yet, or I didn’t care. Obviously, it’s also possible that I am part of the 0.000001% smartest human beings who are never wrong on topics that they actually care enough about to do a minimum of research on. But that’s pretty damn unlikely. I’m probably just like every other average person out there who just won’t change his mind.

I can’t count the number of times I got frustrated because someone wouldn’t listen to actual evidence and admit they were wrong. I’ve argued a lot in my life, probably more than average. How many times was I the one who refused to see the truth?

Scott Adams claims that he successfully persuaded an angry Trump-hater into a Trump supporter in 10 minutes. According to what he usually says on that subject, he probably didn’t use any fact or proof, or very little of it as “Because effect” ammo. Analogy and Emotion are probably his favorite weapons. I still have trouble believing that without seeing it. Anyone who is actually an “angry Trump-hater” probably made up his mind with emotion and analogy in the first place, otherwise he might hate Trump but he won’t be angry about it.

The backfire effect isn’t supposed to work every single time. Maybe I forgot those times I actually changed my mind because of Selective Memory. Maybe Cognitive Dissonance makes me think I didn’t actually have an opinion before the change even if I had one. Maybe I’m just incredibly stubborn.

Did you ever change your mind on a topic where you had strong beliefs and cared a lot about? Did you ever witness anyone else doing so? You should answer this in the comments, because I asked you to.

hypnotizing you

Am I a trained hypnotist yet?

  • Before I get into thinking about specific examples of changing my mind when presented with new evidence, for this comment I’d like to start with your first main point – that we have so many cognitive biases that we can’t be rational. My thought is: why is this surprising? If anything, it’s more surprising to me that we’re anywhere close to rational, given that we clearly have so many jury-rigged heuristic tactics built into our minds by evolution (and clearly many of the biases are heuristic: short-cuts that often work, much favoured by evolution). So our minds and cognitive mechanisms aren’t perfect, but isn’t it amazing that we’re still able to even approach Shakespeare’s “what a work is man” level, most of the time.

    As conclusive proof of just one quite unbelievable bias, just watch the famous psychological experiment that you may or may not have seen before:

    • Kaito Kid

      I had seen this video years ago, and was tricked that time, but today I didn’t even remember it was a gorilla, just that something would be off. It’s been completely impossible for me to not notice it, no matter how much I concentrated on the passes. That’s very weird indeed.

      • Assuming that happened the first time you saw the video too, apparently about 50% see the gorilla, and 50% don’t see it at all. I was in the latter camp, so well done you for being in the former camp.

        So, the question that emerges is: if 50% of smart functioning human beings have minds that allow them to completely miss something blatantly happening before their very eyes, because they’re concentrating on something else, what other cognitive biases and errors and illusions do many of us also fall foul of?

        • Kaito Kid

          Actually, I might have said that wrong. The first time I saw it, I didn’t see the gorilla at all and was completely tricked. Then, today, even though I barely remembered the video, and didn’t remember at all that the odd thing would be a gorilla, I tried my best to follow the passes and concentrate on them, but my brain saw the gorilla very well and wasn’t able to ignore him.
          The weird part is how I actually could not get tricked a second time, even though I barely remembered anything about this video.

          • Oh, right, in case I did misunderstand you, sorry, rereading your original comment it was completely clear, my bad. In that case, you and I were both in the “completely tricked” category. I guess today you somehow remembered something about the gorilla, so the trick didn’t work for you. The mind’s a funny thing;-)