Finally, some simple advice: it’s important not to repeat a false belief in an effort to correct it, Nyhan has found. If people are told Barack Obama is not Muslim, many will remember that he is Muslim. The negative simply vanishes from their minds, because it doesn’t fit with their pre-existing biases. The best way to counter this disturbing tendency to just state that Obama is Christian — and avoid ringing any false notes altogether.
In a meta-analysis of more than 100 studies on fear messaging, Kim Witte and Mike Allen found that fear without a sense of agency backfires — leading people to respond with denial, avoidance and disgust. The vast majority of news stories function precisely this way, which should give us pause. Generating denial, avoidance and disgust cannot be a good business model. But when people are reminded that a problem has possible solutions (some of which they agree with and can act on in the near future) they are more open to considering the warning.
Cognitive ease also comes from a feeling of hope. Uncomfortable information that could generate fear (such as a report on the devastation of this year’s flu epidemic) is more palatable to people if it comes with a side of specific actions that people can take in response (such as a list of pharmacies offering free flu shots along with their hours of operation).
That’s because people don’t decide to believe something based on its statistical validity. That’s just not how our brains have evolved to work. We judge information based on its source and its harmony with our other beliefs. As Daniel Kahneman puts it in Thinking Fast and Slow: “How do you know if a statement is true? If i…
The best conversations across differences usually start with personal questions like, “Which of your life experiences have shaped your political views?” When we tell our own story, we tend to speak with more nuance, because real life is not a bumper sticker.
…s they always have. These details matter a lot — just as much as the substance of the conversation. In the Difficult Conversation’s Lab, Coleman and his colleagues found that conversations go better when people have about 3 positive interactions for every 1 negative encounter. And the tone is usually set in the first few minutes.
Vicarious storytelling can unintentionally narrow the lens, as previously discussed, by focusing on individual accountability instead of systemic ills. It is important to widen the lens and connect a particular representative of the “other” tribe to a larger history and story — or the story can end up just confirming the audience’s biases.
Genuine human connections permanently complicate our narratives. Communities with more cross-cutting relationships tend to be less violent and more tolerant, as Diana Mutz, a political scientist professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has found.
…ther, as decades of research into racial prejudice have shown, is to introduce them to one another. The technical term is “contact theory,” but it just means that once people have met and kind of liked each other, they have a harder time caricaturing one another.