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Thread: How to change the mind of the wingnuts - psychology

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    Cyborg with a Tiara
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    How to change the mind of the wingnuts - psychology

    This letter was published at electoral-vote.com today, and it introduced some useful methods to consider whenever you are trying to persuade anyone, but particularly trying to persuade someone who holds untrue beliefs.

    A.C. in Aachen, Germany, writes: Being into social psychology quite a bit, I very much liked your overview of the theory of cognitive dissonance in response to the question about why Trump's support is so consistent with his base. As the theory is so influential (more than 1,000 studies over the decades), I would like to add a few aspects and widen the scope of the answer.

    You talked about how dissonance might be reduced, but I think this deserves a closer look. Festinger (who developed the theory) assumed that people use the path that requires the least change of affected cognitions. There are basically three ways to reduce dissonance:

    Addition of consonant information, e.g. finding ways to support the decision (he appointed judges, cut taxes, owned the Liberals etc.)

    Subtract dissonant information, e.g. weaken the notion that Trump is a moron (smear campaign, liberal hoax, witch hunt, biased media, ignoring or not perceiving facts etc.)

    Change of behavior, which in this case would mean not to favor Trump any longer and probably not vote for him again.
    Given the high level of commitment in a very polarized elecorate, it's plausible to believe that many voters will not chose the third path, as the number of cognitions to be rearranged would be quite high. It demands much less cognitive effort to follow the first path, the second path, or both.

    That said, the theory also suggests that different outcomes might take place depending on what lines of attack are used during the campaign. It doesn't make sense to reach out to hardcore Trumpers; for them the change in the cognitive system is far too large. But independents, old-school Republicans and Democrats who voted Trump in 2016 might well be persuadable. For them, I think the challenge is to frame the message in an way that allows persuadable voters to change to the Democrats without having to change cognitions too much. "Trump is an idiot, you see it yourself, and we told you all along" would not do the job. On the other hand, something like "we understand that there might have been reasons to vote Trump then, but we got your message, we changed, its okay to vote Democrats this year." Of course, this messaging would cause dissonance for the progressive wing of the Democratic party, but there is always some amount of 3D chess involved.

    V & Z respond: The term that many commenters use these days for this way of thinking is "permission structure," and it's clearly the basis of what the folks at the Lincoln Project are doing.

    It would be interesting to discuss the psychology of how to break through the mind traps that people get themselves into.

    "You can't reason a man out of a corner that he didn't reason his way into."

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    Deus Meumque Jus
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    I largely don't think you do change the mind of wing-nuts, for a number of reasons. One of the bigger ones is that a major component of political affiliation is genetically inherited. That is our brains are often wired to lean toward the left or right. If we're talking 'wing' nuts, I'd guess it follows that those with a strong propensity for one wing are even more so genetically inclined. It's not something they've consciously reasoned, it's how they experience and understand the world.

    Once you couple that with being dis-incentivized to change their mind, because all of their friends and family believe the same things, you're basically lost.

    I may be the pessimist but if 'changing the world', 'supporting humanity' were as easy as making posts and talking on the internet, we would have solved the world's problems by now. To me the reality is that most of our political problems have roots much deeper than human epistemology, and it's a bit anthropocentric to think that we can control the arc of our own history simply by talking to each other. Maybe to an extent, but the underlying forces of history are much, much more powerful than anything we can do as individuals.

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    Cyborg with a Tiara
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    I'm thinking of it more from an academic/therapeutic standpoint. The goal is not so much to "change their mind" as to understand HOW science/experience/therapy would suggest is the most probably approach.

    Then even if one does not wish to pursue to the end, one at least knows what will NOT work.

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    Deus Meumque Jus
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rhea View Post
    I'm thinking of it more from an academic/therapeutic standpoint. The goal is not so much to "change their mind" as to understand HOW science/experience/therapy would suggest is the most probably approach.

    Then even if one does not wish to pursue to the end, one at least knows what will NOT work.
    Well, in your letter the sociologist seems to be on to something - the more work one has to do to change their belief, the less likely they are to do so. Put another way, people need a hard, strong material incentive to do something other than what they've already been doing.

    That leads into my point, I think, that there are generally more powerful factors than epistemology at play. The assumption that political orientations and decisions have anything to do with rational thought, and rational discourse, is far over-simplified, imo. Members at this very forum are a case in point - people who have been unable to see reason or change in any fundamental way for years and years. This is because their core beliefs, their core outlook, their core experience of the world, largely dictates what they feel and what they believe.

    When Trump was elected it was largely because he offered conservatives a material incentive - beat down people of colour - and his opponent wasn't strong enough to beat him. When Obama was elected it was because he was a strong candidate, and people believed he would make their lives better. In either case I doubt that political discourse had much, if any impact on either outcome.

    So I think if you do want to change someone's mind about something you need to appeal to their self-interest, and the incentive that you're offering needs to be a bigger factor than all of the underlying, pre-existing forces already at play. Unfortunately, people also have very little to lose by voting the same way election after election. There is basically no downside to not changing when your vote is one of millions, so to ask someone to fundamentally change their perspective is asking a lot.

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    The further north I've lived the more liberal the socio-political environment. That includes ND/SD, Michigan, Maine, Montana and I-duh-ho. More partying in the south with less barn raising. Much more noes-in-the-air in the south with hate the new testament religion.

    Observations of one whose been there done that.

    Self interest is driven by temperature and humidity more than it is by principles or mores is my starting point.

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    I don't know how this could be a regional thing, since all of my black friends and acquaintances are Democrats and while most of my white friends are Democrats too, I do know that most of the white people in my town are Republicans.

    I think political ideology has more to do with what one values or who one hates. Most Republicans aren't voting in their best interested these days. I say this because I have known many who were on SS and Medicare or worked in low paying jobs, but are hard core Trump supporters. My one "friend" who is a Trump supporter has become a true wingnut. I'm not sure that I can think of her as a friend anymore. We weren't that close to begin with, just both nurses who worked in the same place briefly. That and being female were about the only things that we had in common. She's also a conservative Christian who believes that if she keeps praying she will find a man to take care of her etc.

    Last month we had a little discussion about the pandemic and such. She doesn't trust the CDC, or The WHO and she doesn't believe that wearing a mask or socially distancing is necessary. She thinks that China wants to kill all of us and the virus was developed in a Chinese lab purposely. It's too painful to think that an RN, who took all those science courses and who's work involves applied science, can believe the stuff that she does.The woman is poor, has to work part time just to pay her bills. She's on Medicare and her primary source of income is SS. Yet, she's a huge fan of Trump and Fox News. You can't reason with someone like that.

    My sister lives in an. uppity little town in New Jersey. She really can't afford to live there, to be honest. She's a Democrat but she's told me that many of her neighbors are Trump supporters. Her two is all white. In fact, I seriously doubt that there is a single black resident in her town. So, why are all these white people so nutty? Are they racists? Do they think that Trump has their best interests? Are they anti abortion? I don't get it. And, I doubt you can change someone like that.

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    Veteran Member Treedbear's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fromderinside View Post
    ...
    Self interest is driven by temperature and humidity more than it is by principles or mores is my starting point.
    If you mean narrow minded, unimaginative thinking is the result of an over-heated brain I think you're exactly right. In an era of global warming that's a problem.

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    the baby-eater
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    Are swing voters even worth the trouble?

    Each party is looking to increase their share of the vote, but they don't necessarily have to steal voters from the other party. They can pick up more voters from the massive pool of people who don't vote at all. Why bother trying to turn a self-identifying Republican into a Democrat, or vice versa, when you can recruit people who currently have no party alignment?

    As the letter points out, any attempt to swing some votes also runs the risk of alienating supporters.

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    A lot of it is just in-group conformance. The group you identify with, and feel that you belong to etc, is the group whose ideas and philosophy you want to share. And this is not some average or moderate position. It has to be an extreme position, in order to differentiate you from the other groups. So even the borderline or moderate folks get polarised. It is just Us vs. Them and Conforming to Group norms. Just the context varies.

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    Veteran Member Tigers!'s Avatar
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    I'd open the bowling by not calling them wingnuts myself.
    NOTE: No trees were killed in the sending of this message, but a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

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