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You might not be able to completely reverse a person’s stance on any given issue, but you might be able to change their mind a little by presenting your argument in just the right way.

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[INTRO ♪].

With the holidays coming up, you might be thinking that this is finally the year to get your uncle to stop blaming millennials for everything. After all, you’ve got the facts on your side, right?

Persuasion is a huge area of psychology, but most of the things that work are when you're persuading people of something new. Convincing someone to change their mind when they already disagreed with you is much harder. There are a few things that kind of work, but mostly it's an uphill battle.

This is for a lot of reasons, like the fact that when people have thought about their opinions for a bit, they often tie those opinions to their social identities. For instance, one study asked people to try and understand some tables with numbers about whether a skin cream helped get rid of rashes. And pretty much everyone did fine.

But when the researchers took the same numbers and made them about whether a gun control measure worked, people had a harder time understanding—unless it agreed with their political views. When you scan people’s brains while they’re being shown arguments against their beliefs, the people who aren’t very likely to change show activation in the amygdala and insula. These brain regions are associated with emotional reactions and avoiding threats, as if they had been personally insulted or were in physical danger.

So, it can be pretty tricky to get someone in that headspace to carefully consider a peer-reviewed paper. But a few strategies can help. One thing to try is focusing on how things work, instead of why you hold your beliefs.

People often hold really strong opinions about really complicated topics like climate change, healthcare, or international relations. Despite those opinions, most people don't know those subjects as well as they think they do. This is called the illusion of explanatory depth.

Researchers tested this by having people write about a variety of topics—like raising the retirement age for social security benefits, or merit-based pay for teachers. The participants either listed reasons why they held certain opinions or described how their preferred solution would work. The ones who explained how their opinion would fix things discovered they didn't know as much as they thought they did.

And they became a little less extreme in their support. Another helpful persuasive strategy might be tailoring an argument to the other person's viewpoint. Some recent research about political opinions found that one reason why people tend to fall into two big groups on issues is because of common moral principles— like, the rules about what you feel is good and right.

For example, people who are more politically liberal tend to hold principles of fairness and care for others. Whereas politically conservative people are more likely to value purity and respect for authority. So, by trying to tailor arguments to the other groups’ moral principles, researchers were able to get some people to soften their position a bit.

Like, on average, self-identified conservatives were a little more likely to support universal healthcare after they read about stopping the spread of harmful diseases. And self-identified liberals were a little more likely to support a national language after reading how it might level the playing field for immigrants. These weren’t huge shifts.

Like, on a five point scale of agree to disagree, tailoring the argument moved people about half a point on average. But similar studies have found that framing arguments to align with someone’s values can affect their opinions, regardless of political alignment. For instance, one experiment involved a group of people who were opposed to policies that curb climate change and strongly valued stability and certainty.

When the message was tailored to their values, 75% were up for signing a pro-environmental petition, as opposed to just 30% when the message wasn't. Now, a third strategy that might help change minds is just knocking on doors and having a conversation. Psychologists have been burned before with door-to-door canvassing, though.

A major study in 2014 about this technique was retracted for fraud... like, just-made-up-the-data fraud. But pretty recently, the researchers who discovered the fraud gave the canvassing thing a try, for real. They knocked on doors in Florida and talked to five hundred voters about prejudice against transgender people.

And… it kind of worked. They used a technique called analogic perspective-taking. Basically, this meant they asked voters about a time they felt judged for being different.

And they encouraged voters to use that feeling as a window into others' perspectives. In follow up surveys from 3 days to 3 months after the conversation, the voters reported less prejudice and more support for an anti-discrimination law, compared to a control group who got a conversation about recycling. Overall, though, what this research shows is that persuading people to change their mind can be done.

But it’s hard. In all these studies, just a few people changed their mind. Or, more often, they just reported a slightly less extreme position.

And to get there, you might have to carefully consider what other people think and value, and give reasons that could work for them—even if you might disagree. Or it might involve coaching people through a conversation about empathy, which is basically impossible to do in a heated Twitter argument, instead of face-to-face. So in the end, changing people’s minds is hard because people are complicated.

It’s still worth a shot with your uncle… but who knows what the outcome will be. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych, and thanks especially to our patrons on Patreon who make these videos possible. If you want to join a community of people who value free online education as much as we do, you can go to [OUTRO ♪].