How to Win Minds

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Some researchers have analyzed a Reddit thread called, "changemyview," to better understand how one might use the Internet to persuade people to change their minds. Doctoral student Chenhao Tan of Cornell, who published the results, found eight techniques that worked, and speculates that they apply to many other settings. I'll list them without elaboration and give my take afterwards:

  1. Respond to the initial statement sooner rather than later.
  2. Respond in groups.
  3. Have a few back-and-forth exchanges with your opponent, but never go past three or four.
  4. Link to outside evidence.
  5. Don't quote the person you're arguing with.
  6. Don't act too intense -- that scares people off.
  7. Write a longer response if you're actually trying to change someone's opinion.
  8. Last but not least, try to base your arguments around points that your opponent didn't initially address.
Item 5 was the biggest surprise to me, since it brought up something I'd never thought of. And I was initially inclined to pick a bone with Item 2, given how much group-"thinking" I've seen on the Internet and the dubious value of getting a second-hander to voice agreement about something. But then I realized that the common thread to all of these is that they offer evidence for someone's mind to consider and respect that mind's sovereignty, by making it clear that the other person will be left free to think about the issue for himself. Thinking about the list in that way, I realized that one form of evidence that an idea might be worth considering is that other reasonable people hold it. (This isn't to say that some people won't just fall into line with "what everyone else thinks.")

This is a valuable article for people interested in cultural change to consider, and it caused me to recall an episode in my own past, in which I pretty much acted the way this guidance would call for. (This was over email, so I didn't involve others.) I gained agreement on a big issue in that correspondence, but I conducted myself well partly by accident. Now, thanks to this article, I better understand what I did right, and have a much greater chance of doing so again if a similar opportunity arises in the future.

-- CAV

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