Don't argue. Just talk data.

How people change their minds.

Alex Eben Meyer

Alex Eben Meyer

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Trying to get your recalcitrant cousin to change his mind about an issue dear to your heart may feel like rolling a boulder uphill. But Alexander Coppock, a political science professor, says your interchanges may not be as futile as they seem.  

In his new book—Persuasion in Parallel: How Information Changes Minds About Politics—Coppock argues that individuals of all political inclinations can change their minds in response to information. The common view, he says, is that people tend to reason against information they dislike and expend cognitive effort to resist that information. “But the evidence for that view is based on weak research designs,” he adds. Instead, using randomized control trials and a meta-analysis of others’ experiments, Coppock shows that people at different points on the political spectrum, when presented with persuasive information, will change their minds approximately the same amount.

“Let’s say we present information that providing free school lunches reduces the dropout rate,” he says. “That information can move both those who start out liking the policy—and those who start out opposing it—to favor it more. They will still disagree, but they will have moved in parallel in the direction of the evidence.”

While various types of information can lead to useful political discourse, Coppock notes one technique that is more likely to shut down conversation: group cues. “A group cue,” he says, “is telling someone what others think. For instance: ‘This is what Republicans support. What is your opinion?’” If you use group cues, “you can ignore presenting the substance of the argument and just wait for people to figure out which side they identify with.” So: “When you are trying to persuade someone, avoid group cues!”  

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