How to Change Someone’s Mind About Climate Change

blog-changing minds-2.18.16According to recent polls, acceptance of climate change is on the increase – but a substantial number of Americans are still not greatly concerned about impacts or don’t believe human activity is the main cause. Is it possible to change their minds? A new paper by researchers at Cornell University offers some insights on how we can be more persuasive.
As this Washington Post article reports, the study focused on users of the online forum ChangeMyView, where posters express an opinion and then invite others to argue against it. If someone is successful in changing their view, the original poster awards them a ∆ (“delta,” a symbol used in math to denote change), and explains why they were persuaded.
Here are some of the most effective techniques, and how they can be applied to climate communications.
Bring in new points of view. The most successful arguments used words that were different from the original post, showing thoughtfulness and a fresh perspective.
Be specific. Persuasive arguments tended to use terms like “for example” and offer supporting evidence. We’ve found that pointing to specific, local impacts can help climate change feel more relevant and personal (and thus more urgent).
Show open-mindedness and stay calm. No one wants to feel they’re being attacked or derided for their views about climate change. Acknowledging that different opinions exist can make your argument easier to accept, while using calm language helps create an atmosphere of mutual respect. When you show a willingness to listen, you’re more likely to be heard.
Too much back-and-forth is not productive. The ability to change a person’s mind diminishes after a certain number of exchanges. If they are strongly resistant to messages about climate issues, it’s advisable to focus on solutions instead, and describe benefits everyone can agree on. We all want cleaner air and water, and most people believe that expanding clean energy will create jobs and save money, regardless of their views about climate change.

How to Change Someone’s Mind, According to Science

By Ana Swanson, contributor to The Washington Post
The universe is constantly clamoring to change your mind about something – whether it’s in the form of Twitter feuds, political debates or Mountain Dew’s horrible “puppy monkey baby” Super Bowl ad. But how many of these appeals to alter our views really succeed?
A new paper from researchers at Cornell University sheds some light on how and why people are convinced to change their minds. The researchers analyzed nearly two years of postings on ChangeMyView, a forum on the internet community reddit where posters present an argument and invite people to reason against them.
These arguments on ChangeMyView range widely in terms of topic. “People don’t define who they are, their genetics and environment do,” reads one. “Zoos are immoral,” says another. “I think that the vast majority of Bernie supporters are selfish and ill-informed,” reads one thread, which received 1125 comments in one day.
Unlike the mindless clashes you often see on Twitter or Facebook, commentors on ChangeMyView explain their reasoning at length. The forum also requires the poster let others know when their view has changed by awarding the other poster a ∆ (a “delta,” the Greek letter used in math to denote change) and explaining exactly what modified their view. By looking at these exchanges, the researchers can study exactly what persuades people outside the laboratory and also have access to mass quantities of data.
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Image credit: iStock

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