Human psychology works in surprising ways, due to our inherent biases. Most of us tend to stick to established world views, even in the face of mounting evidence. This begs the question: what does it take to shift a view about something 180 degrees?  A new study investigated the dynamics of persuasion — on the internet, at least. In short, you’re likely to change your mind about Donald Trump or whether or not climate change is real when 1) there are more people who share this view; 2) arguments feature specific examples with sources; 3) a soft tone is used; 4) you receive replies to your comment in a timely manner that suggests engagement.

words have power

Image: Pixabay

The results were published by researchers at Cornell University. They studies threads on the Reddit forum /r/ChangeMyView where people start discussions by inviting others to argue that their belief is wrong. Some of the features threads on the homepage today include “CMV:That cyclists should have to carry ID with them like every other road user”, “CMV: Spanking isn’t such a bad thing if used sparingly”, or “CMV: Marco Rubio would be the best representative for the United States”. If the thread start changes this view, he is kindly asked to signal this with a  ∆ sign which is the Greek symbol universally used to denote change, while explaining what was it exactly that led to the shift. It’s quite different from random ramblings and feuds on Twitter, which is why the researchers found it an excellent source of data.

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In the threads where the poster actually changed his view, several factors were identified to may have caused the shift. Back and forth exchanges between participants is a sign of successful persuasion. Not surprising if you’ve read a couple of internet forums, it can also be a distinct sign of failure. If a discussion involves four replies each and the poster hasn’t been convinced, chances have it nothing will. If you see absolute wording like  “anyone,” “certain,” and “nothing,” and superlative adjectives like “worst” and “best,” then its likely the poster is stubborn and difficult to persuade. Those that write using the pronoun “I”, instead of “We”, are more likely to be malleable.

Convincing someone to change their views is never easy, but maybe using these findings might help.