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RS 156 - David McRaney on “Why it’s so hard to change someone’s mind”

Release date: April 3rd, 2016

David McRaney

You're probably already aware that it's hard to change someone's mind with logical arguments and evidence, especially about emotionally charged topics. But are there exceptions?

David McRaney, bestselling author of "You Are Not So Smart" (and host of the blog and podcast by the same name) describes his experiences with people who have done an about-face on some important topic, like 9/11 conspiracy theories. He and Julia discuss a technique for changing someone's mind with evidence, how individual mind-change mirrors scientific progress, and what happens when you confront Trump fans with facts that contradict their narrative.


David's Picks:
"Invisible Gorilla" by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
"How We Know What Isn't So" by Thomas Gilovich

Podcast edited by Brent Silk


Full Transcripts 


Reader Comments (34)

2 words ...cognitive dissonance.
April 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline Bruschi
I enjoy the topic a lot, but I got so impatient when the guest speaker made some simple concepts into lengthy description of details. the detail only matters when it supports your argument/pov....... the unfocused way to convey his opinion is the exactly the reason why the anti-trans activist's story was abandoned half-way and why so many comments' attention are on Trump instead of the center point of this show as it was supposed to be. This podcast makes me interest in the topic more, but tremendously decrease my desire to read the guest speaker's book.
May 3, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterhesi
While I enjoy David's books and the scripted content on his podcast, I see that he suffers from the same thing when interviewing and when being interviewed: a lot of "uhm" and "so" and backtracking and meandering and general lack of getting to the point. This was a hard listen because of that, but I'll definitely pick up the book when it's published.
May 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChristine
First, I love your show. Second, I love the topic.

However, the repeated going off on tangents drove me nuts!!! Let's review:

1) Introduction, background and motivation
2) He changed his mind about changing minds: he used to think you can't do it (getting interesting!!)
3) Book in 3 concentric circles: 1. How we develop our framework, 2. How people come to believe framework is wrong, 3. How we trade one model for another. Also individual change not the same as group change:
4) Let's go through some examples: Charley Veich in Manchester England experienced a BIG change (awesome, I love specific examples... plus he promised that this is the best part of his book! Great). He wanted to find people who were swayed by the evidence. It turns out the first thing the author was wrong about though was that you can change people's minds with facts. What??? Julia is confused (and so am I)... you USED to think you could change people's minds with facts, but you found you were wrong??? That seems to be a direct contradiction of point 2) on my list above. OK, I feel tension now: how will this be resolved???
5) [Postponed: off on a tangent]
---> Tangent #1: (hopefully short, so we can return to Mr. Charles Veich): Trump rally: he wants to see what happens when he confronts Trump supporters with the fact that Muslims didn't cheer during 9/11, so he can tell experts about the responses he got later.
---> He got 3 different responses:
---> i) All politicians lie
---> ii) It did happen, and there was a cover up (conspiracy theorists)
---> iii) [put this one on hold: Julia made a comment about nodes that caused another tangent: who knew?)
------> Tangent #2 (hopefully a short one!): B.S. Ramachandran's map analogy of how we make a model of the world. A course incomplete model. How does general make executive decisions?
------> If you're asking someone to change their mind (their model), but you can't tell people to throw out the whole model, even though we often try this with people and think it will work.
------> Julia adds a comment, and promises to get back to Trump rally (Yeah!!!): science changes its mind incrementally too.
------> David agrees in a way that makes me think we won't be getting back to finish our first tangent. )c:
------> Julia offers a "3rd way" to deal with new evidence that contradicts your internal model (accept it as contradicting evidence)
---------> Tangent #3: David talks about people who's lives were ruined by total mind changing experiences: trust issues, etc.
---------> Julia clarifies: epistemically justified NOT to change your mind (ought oh, this caused another tangent)
------------> Tangent #4: Huston transgender bathrooms, woman is anti-transgender rights and now she's on the other side. Like what Khun talks about in his book. Amazing parallels.
------------> Julia gives a choice: return to Trump rally OR curious about woman in Huston
---> iii) 3rd group: said no it didn't happen. When they find out who said it (Trump), they change their mind and say it did happen.
-----------> Back to woman in Huston (oh yeah! Manchester!!!)
5) Charles Veich: swayed by evidence (yeah!!!): he was an up and coming conspiracy theorist.
---> Tangent 6: conspiracy theory conference (the make lots of dollars)
Veich does this same thing: he's a 9/11 truther.
6) BBC "conspiracy theory road trip": conspiracy theorists meet actual people involved in the tragedy. What happens?
7) He didn't think steel beams melt at the right temperature. How much work it would be to put demolition charges. How easy to fly planes into buildings. Veich understands each thing. He felt weird seeing other conspiracy people react. They talk to woman who lost her son, and this makes Veich cry. Veich realized he was in a cult when he saw the other people react. On youtube he said he changes his mind. Internet people are trying to ruin his life because of it. Trying to frame him for child porn even.
8) There are other stories in the book, but only one (Charley) was a case of evidence changing their mind. This is how difficult it was to change people's mind (and 1/5).
9) What he knows that does work (Yeah!!!):
---> Leadership lab: in L.A.: (similar to a guy in UK that does this technique for climate change)
---> Leadership lab: go to door, ask people to rate how they feel about gay marriage on 0 to 10
---> Follow up question: why is that the right number for you? Meta-belief. Emotionally charged opinion.
---> Makes person put into words why this is the right number. 80% listening 20% talking.
---> What was the 1st time you heard about this issue? They will see this is received wisdom. Somebody hands it to them.
---> Talk about experiences they've had. Often no negative experiences. At the same time you share with them intimate stories. No judgement of them. Avoid an argument of any kind. Real lived experience is exchanged. No potential for "back fire effect." Facilitate them forming their own opinion about this. They never have to say "Oh wait I might be wrong about this." They don't suffer social consequences or shame. It works a lot. It's a low percentage: 12% to 15%.
---> Climate change people will be using this same technique.
---> Get people to realize they don't have informed opinions about things. They have these meta-beliefs.

OK, I loved the show! You eventually got back and resolved the tangents. Great!

Book pick: Derren Brown: people swap trick. David didn't believe it. 20% to 30% of people don't notice that the person has changed. Best book: "The Unpersuadables" ... tour of people who can't be persuaded. Ok, the links are here. Wave of books.

Julia, there's a guy on youtube who uses a similar method to get people to examine their beliefs. His name is Anthony Magnabosco. His method is called "Street Epistemology." He's not the only one to use the technique. Google "street epistemology" to find others. AFAIK it originated with philosophy professor Peter Boghossian (but he'd probably say it originated with Socrates). Anyway, here's a link:


Wow, again, great show. I'm amazed all the tangents were cleared up in the end (except for the lady in Huston I guess... we didn't hear all of that story, but that was several tangents deep, so I'm OK with it).
June 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom Brown
I actually do recall seeing people dancing in the streets on 9/11. I saw it on the news. Whether or not it happened is very different than whether or not the news said it happened, and the news did say they were dancing in the streets. I distinctly remember them saying that and remember seeing the footage.
October 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterThe Truth
"VIDEO PROOF Muslims dancing & celebrating after hearing about 9/11 (CNN news) ACTUAL NEWS FOOTAGE":
October 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterThe Truth
@The Truth - It has never been disputed that there were celebrations in the Palestinian Territories after the 9/11 attacks. The discussion is about Donald Trump's claim that he saw "thousands and thousands" of people celebrating in New Jersey.
October 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRob
In the context of 19th century's France, the word republican has nothing to do with noawaday's american GOP, which itself has little to do with Lincoln's republican party, (the democrats used to be the conservatives and republicans the "progressives" but these position swapped).
The alternatives to republican were not "democrat" but royalist or bonapartist.
January 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPierre Ripplinger
Wow, I'm glad I'm not a member of a 9/11 conspiracy cult.
December 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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