The Backfire Effect — It's why you can't change a Christian's or Trump follower's mind...and they can't change yours

Have you ever argued anyone out of their Christianity or their support of The Trumpster?

Neither have I.

The backfire effect occurs when, in the face of contradictory evidence, established beliefs do not change but actually get stronger. The effect has been demonstrated experimentally in psychological tests, where subjects are given data that either reinforces or goes against their existing biases - and in most cases people can be shown to increase their confidence in their prior position regardless of the evidence they were faced with.

In a pessimistic sense, this makes most refutations useless. (source)

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a seventh day adventist sez I, i sez.

I beg to differ about changing my mind on many things...including my own atheism. Secular humanist atheists (most of us here) actually do care about evidence and logical arguments. If I were presented with evidence of Gods existence or that right wing parties generally improved economies and the average standard of living and reduced the geberal amount of misery...I'd change my world view or how I vote.

But yes...some people truly are unable to change their views despite very logical and sound critiques. How do you discuss something with someone who can mold an argument against something...into a reason to keep believing it?

It CAN be an effect, albeit it is not a universal effect.  SOME people can change their minds when presented with compelling evidence, but, yes, some cannot, if the issue lights up certain defensive centers in their brains, etc.

I changed a person from not believing in evolution, to believing it, in one elevator ride down in a high rise for example, the shortest example of conversion I, entrenched beliefs CAN change.


I'm thinking it depends a lot on the nature of their commitment to whatever you are discussing.

If they arrived at their belief after some thought based on facts, then contrary facts may not be threatening and could result in a conversion.

On the other hand, if their commitment is an emotional one, the chance of changing their mind is much smaller. Think of parents of a child who has done something so bad it made the news. Often, they will deny their child's culpability entirely or provide excuses.

I think it has a lot to do with how one presents one's argument.  If it's along the lines of "you're stupid for believing this, therefore you must agree with my point of view" then nobody is going to admit to a rude person that they're stupid. 

I have heard women say quite often, when trying to change their husband's minds:  "let him think it was his idea". 

Of course, it's well known that a direct attack often results in the opponent digging deeper into their trench. 

In fact, there's an app (Aesop's Fable) for that:

THE WIND and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.


True, in context.

Think of it as indicative of the style of argument.

One style DID convince the man to remove his hat.

So, if the person feels ATTACKED, yes, he will tend to be defensive, a natural expectation.

If the person perceives the information as not an attack, but merely as information...he takes off his own hat.

This is the difference between the spanish inquisition (Convert or die after torture) and propaganda campaigns. (Here is a lot of info which may sway you over time)

If the propaganda is too aggressive, and swings to perception as an attack, it falls into the other category of course, and so forth.


What you said about the way in which the person't opinion was derived is hitting the nail on the head too I think.

If it IS "faith", they arrive at opinions given to them and then entrenched...and logic is not part of how they arrive at conclusions anyway.


What Unseen is pointing not a problem with aggressive or provocative narratives but simple logical explanations. This means its not a question of delivery...or discussion style
According to the studies that didnt matter much if rational arguments and evidence were the content. In several of these someone an accessible yet rational explanation of evolution and climate change can and for some will backfire. It can be friendly or neutral or happy fuzzy...the logic and evidence will translate into them believing more profoundly in their delusions and ignorance.

The main interpretation is...for many people...reason doesn't work. You need someone they respect to tell them this information or demonstrate real and immediate consequences for them if they don't. Reason simple won't work whether you are sweet about it or serious or bitchy.

Over the last week a number of us have talked with Michael...some in patient kind tones, others with snarky sarcasm, others with exasperation...and yet still...almost nothing has gotten through. We have nothing to offer him except reason...and I would bet €100 that he is even more committed to his nuttery than before.

It makes you wonder what people's actual reasons are for sticking to their beliefs come what may.  Is it a form of immaturity, that some people grow out of?  Probably many different reasons depending on the person.  I saw this, from Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching: 

The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky,
all-pervading like sunlight,
firm like a mountain,
supple like a tree in the wind,
he has no destination in view
and makes use of anything life happens to bring his way.

Nuttery?! Anyways, it also seems that the feeling of being "right" is an emotional feeling that isn't swayed much (if at all) by conscious knowledge or decisions. In fact it's part of that part of the brain measurable by machine that can know before one's conscious brain knows when a decision is made. (I don't mean to fork the thread into the related topic of free will!) The conscious & rational mind can only feedback after the fact, and hopefully emotional centers can draw enough of it, from whatever/whereever the hell they draw the emotions from.

Meanwhile, the conscious/rational mind still does have some kind of veto power, even after some emotional decisions are made. I think I've taught myself to recognize which emotional decisions seem the most unreasonable, and I'll often go against my feelings. I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this.

That's why I maintain compassion for people who haven't learned how to overcome those emotional pressures, especially the pressures that come from other people. It's natural for us to fit in and play the group role, whatever it's eventually (or temporarily) determined to be (mostly by the group).

Oh yeah, and when overcoming one's own depression, it also helps to apply the same tolerance and forgiveness to one's self, as long as one tries to keep retaining mindfulness.

The guy i undid was completely nuts and emotionally invested. So there are exceptions. 

I think your success was due to the nuts part.


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