Backfire Effect

Giving people logical reasons why they are wrong usually doesn’t work. Neither does pointing to research studies. People are funny that way.

I didn’t know until I listened to a recent This American Life that this phenomenon has a name: the backfire effect.

The This American Life episode was fascinating. It was a reconsideration of the research discredited a year ago that suggested that people could be persuaded by strangers by making an emotional connection–the caveat being that the stranger needs to exemplify the issue. For instance, someone who has had an abortion can make an emotional connection that changes someone’s mind on that issue.

Fascinating, but discredited. What was interesting in This American Life is that they spoke of the researchers who discredited the original study and the subsequent work they’ve done to explore the original thesis. What they’ve found, and are ready to publish, is that listening and making emotional connections (versus making logical arguments) appears to work–even when the person making the argument does not exemplify the position. However, there was a huge caveat, that the effect only appears to work with issues that are not fully ingrained. In other words, the effect doesn’t work with opinions about abortion, but it does appear to work with issues that are shifting or new enough that people’s opinions are only half-formed (the example in the research was trans-gender issues). Even that’s a breakthrough.

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One thought on “Backfire Effect

  1. Pingback: If Your Ideas Are Worth Sharing, They Are Worth Editing | Engaged

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