How to change a person’s mind on a divisive social issue in 22 minutes


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I think This American Life just talk about this exact same story. It’s pretty obvious but interesting the caveats.


So, if you’re able to change/reverse someone’s (anyone’s?) strongly held opinions permanently, what’s the mechanism? Why can’t they be changed back? Or even to a third opinion stance?

It’s not a Jedi trick, they just send trained people who has a personal investment out to talk to people with misconceptions. They have to be relatable, know how to direct the conversation, and allow the person they are talking to come to the conclusion they were misguided.

They also did it for abortion as well. You would have a young woman who had an abortion talk with someone who is older but shares a common upbringing discuss the topic by first asking their opinion about the issue on a 0-10 scale, then after getting to know the person on a human level they reveal they had an abortion and talk about how it impacted their lives, and then at the end they ask them their opinion about the issue on a 0-10 scale. The final value is the one that sticks.


The ugly flipside of contact, in sociology circles, is proximity without contact, which tends to exacerbate difference and prejudice. Which is part of why segregation, even defacto segregation based around any difference is always a recipe for disaster.


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To take the example of same-sex marriage I’ve heard numerous cases of people who were against it but changed their minds, but never a single case of someone who was for it but reversed their position. I’m sure there are exceptions, but the only people who seem to have a stake in the debate are the people who want to marry and those who’ve turned opposition into an industry. Perhaps that’s one of the caveats.

With something that seems less personal–say, climate change–is there a way to change minds?


Hi, maker of the podcast here. I asked Michael LaCour about this, and he said that yes, he believed it could work in that scenario, but it would require a similar personal narrative involving being affected by a consequence of climate change. They plan to experiment along those lines eventually.


Most of the internet: “Eh, that sounds hard. I’ll just stick to telling people they’re idiots, and then telling them again when it somehow fails to change their mind the first time.”


Dude, your image is broken. I am feeling left out not being able to see what @spunkyTWS liked.


Ooh, animated version.


In the first half of the show you’ll travel to Mississippi to meet professional mind changers working to shift attitudes on LGBT rights.

Or to put it another way…


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This mirrors my experience quite well. I grew up in the Deep Baptist South, and was, like most there, reflexively anti-gay. I “knew” the Bible said it was wrong, so never thought it through. I wouldn’t have gone out and beat people up, but would certainly have opposed gay marriage had it been on the radar 25 years ago. Then I met a fellow in Japan teaching English on the same program as me. We became acquaintances, and then one day when I was visiting his apartment, I saw something in the newspaper about a gay rights parade in Tokyo. I said something like “Jeez, they’re everywhere now.” And he said, “Yeah we are.” I must have stared…and he said “I’m gay.” Mind blown. And something clicked. I realized I just didn’t care. He was a friend and that replaced any stereotypes I might have had. He had changed my mind simply by being someone who couldn’t be put in a box as a freak or an evil monster.


I’m not sure why, but the process sounds exhausting. If someone were hell-bent on changing my mind I think that I’d agree with them just to get them to go away.

Well this experiment was pretty involved because it was an experiment…but what it seems to show is that it DOESN’T have to be arduous. Just have a normal conversation and be friendly before bringing up the hot-button issue. If they see you as a decent normal person already, it’s harder for them to square that with a negative stereotype.

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