We're Not Wired To React Unemotionally To Information

Numbers and statistics are necessary and great for exposing the truth, but they’re not enough to change beliefs, and they are almost useless for motivating action.

The huge amount of information we are receiving today can make us even less sensitive to data because we’ve become accustomed to finding support for anything we want to believe, with a simple click of the mouse. Instead, our desires are what shape our beliefs.

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The Influential Mind

The Influential Mind

by Tali Sharot

An attempt to change someone’s mind will be successful if it aligns with the core elements that govern how we think:

  1. Prior beliefs
  2. Emotion
  3. Incentives
  4. Agency 
  5. Curiosity
  6. State of mind
  7. Other people.

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Evidence Does Not Change Beliefs

While we adore data, the problem with an approach that prioritizes information and logic is that it ignores the core of what makes you and me human: our motives, our fears, our hopes and desires.

Data has only a limited capacity to alter the strong opinions of others. Established beliefs can be extremely resistant to change, even when scientific evidence is provided to undermine those beliefs.

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This happens when people are presented with information that contradicts their opinion and they come up with altogether new counterarguments that further strengthen their original view.

When you provide someone with new data, they quickly accept evidence that confirms their prior beliefs and assess counterevidence with a critical eye. 

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Google Is (Always) On Our Side

In today’s world, the ease by which we can find “data” and “evidence” to discredit any opinion—and, at the same time, uncover new information to support our own—is unprecedented.

Paradoxically then, the wealth of available information makes us more resistant to change, because it is so easy to find data that support our own vision.

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The greater your cognitive capacity, the greater your ability to rationalize and interpret information at will, and to creatively twist data to fit your opinions.

People with stronger analytic abilities are more likely to twist data at will than people with low reasoning ability. 

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Emotion equates the physiological state of the listener with that of the speaker, which makes it more likely that the listener will process incoming information in a similar manner to how the speaker sees it.

If I feel happy and you feel sad, we are unlikely to interpret the same story in the same way. But if I can first help you feel as happy as I do, perhaps by sharing a joke, you will be more likely to construe my message the way I do.

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How Emotional Transfer Works
  • Unconscious mimicry. People constantly mimic other people’s gestures, sounds, and facial expressions. We do this automatically. 
  • Reacting to emotional stimuli. Because a fearful face often indicates that there is something to be afraid of, we react to it with fear.

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Twitter: The “Amygdala Of The Internet

Tweeting is one of the most emotionally arousing activities you likely engage in on most days. Studies show that tweeting raises your pulse, makes you sweat, and enlarges your pupils—all indicators of arousal.

Relative to just browsing the Web, tweeting and retweeting enhances brain activity indicative of emotional arousal by 75 percent. Simply reading your feed increases your emotional arousal by 65 percent.

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It states that we approach those people, items, and events we believe can do us good and avoid those that can do us harm.

In other words, we move toward pleasure and away from pain. 

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The difficulty in trying to change people’s behavior by warning them of the spread of disease, loss of money, weight gain, or global warming is that these are all uncertain future sticks. 

It is hard to convince people work for something that may or may not happen. This is why a threat of momentous future harm can sometimes be less effective than a minor reward that is immediate and certain. 

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Our Relationship  With Control
  • Most people become stressed and anxious when their ability to control their environment is removed.
  • Control is tightly related to influence. When you alter someone’s beliefs or actions you are, to some extent, exerting control over that individual. 
  • One way to express control is to make a choice. 

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Because we often experience better outcomes following choice, the association between choice and reward has become so strong in our minds that choice itself has become rewarding.

However, sometimes the decision is so complex and taxing that we prefer not to make a decision. For example, if you give people too many options, they become overwhelmed and don’t choose anything.

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Filling Information Gaps

Information gaps make people feel uncomfortable while filling them is satisfying. If you possess information that can fill existing gaps in people’s knowledge, remind them of those gaps. 

Consider online clickbait such as “The ten celebrities you never knew were enthusiastic gardeners” or “The three politicians you never knew got a nose job.” Those create gaps of knowledge in people’s mind that were not there to begin with.

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This is our ability to think about what other people are thinking. We think constantly about what the other person is thinking and adjust our behavior accordingly. 

While the tendency to engage in theory of mind is useful—it helps us relate to one another and predict what people will do next—the human mind is not a perfect inference machine, and inevitably we will, at times, reach the wrong conclusions.

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Two Phenomena That Can Result In Not-So-Wise Crowds
  • The tendency of our brains to produce unconscious biases. From cognitive biases to errors in decision-making and forecasts, the human brain has evolved for greatness but has preserved countless biases.
  • The human inclination for social learning. If by nature we look to others for information and clues about what is true and, these individuals we consult carry inherent biases, it is inevitable that falsehoods will sometimes increase when individuals come together.

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