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Why can't people see that they are wrong?

It's so very hard to change people's minds

changing change minds.jpg

Just before I wrote this, a consultant shared with me that "in almost every case I consult for, the biggest problem in the organisation are with the people whom I have to present my findings to. It is those with power who simply cannot accept changing their minds, no matter how compelling the evidence is."

I couldn't help but smile when he said this. A few days earlier, his staff (whom I knew because he was a former intern of mine) shared that his biggest challenge in office is changing the minds of his bosses (i.e. the same consultant). 

 

A real loop of irony - everyone thinks that everyone else has problems changing their minds even when they are wrong, though we ourselves are resistant to doing so.

Unforunately this represents the reality of changing minds. Before we really make up our mind on something, we can be influenced by a large number of factors - from what others are doing, to what someone in a position of authority has said, to how our day is going.

But once we have made up our minds, especially if we declared publicly what we believe in, it becomes very difficult to change.
When we put people in a brain scanner and observe their reactions to an opposing view, the underlying reasons for resistance to change becomes clear: 
 

a) We might have confirmation bias - there is very little brain activation because an opposing opinion doesn't register.

 

b) Or, we might feel like an opposing view is an attack - a region in our brains that regulates fear, anger, and anxiety triggers - we feel the need to defend ourselves. And as the example on climate change belows shows, we might end up even more convinced we are right 

 

c) Or, we might suffer from cognitive dissonance - being wrong causes us to feel pain, literally. The brain regions that regulate pain starts firing. And to avoid this pain, we try every means to justify.

In the pieces below, find more examples of just how difficult it is to change someone's mind, even for the great Max Planck. Read about the lengths that Barry Marshall and Robin Warren went to prove what caused stomach ulcers. Or how even the founder of the standardised test couldn't convince people to stop using it. 

In other pieces, find out what works in changing someone's mind, or in altering a first impression. 


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We understand life through stories. Once formulated, our stories become very difficult to change, even though some of these stories are inaccurate.

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Cognitive dissonance - it's painful when we're wrong.

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Why is it so difficult to convince others about man-made climate change

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How do you change a first impression?

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The man who came up with standardised test, and who fought against it.

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We had to be convinced to eat sliced bread

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Cognitive Dissonance

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The Asch experiment - we are hesitant to stand out from the majority

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Climate change - how does evidence for or against change our minds?

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