Why the backfire effect appears

People experience  as a result of the process that they go through when they encounter information that contradicts their preexisting beliefs.

When people argue strongly enough against unwelcome information, they end up, in their mind, with more arguments that support their original stance.

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The backfire effect

Is a cognitive bias and it means that showing people evidence which proves that they are wrong is often ineffective, and can actually end up backfiring, by causing them to support their original stance more strongly than they previously did.

If you’re trying to explain to someone the issues with their stance, you can mitigate the backfire effect by presenting new information in a way that encourages the other person to consider and internalize that information, instead of rejecting it outright.

Be aware of how you react when you encounter information that contradicts your beliefs.

You should not ignore it outright or immediately try to explain why it’s wrong. Instead, you should first try and look at it with fresh eyes, and assess it based on its own merit, without comparing it to your preexisting theory on the topic.

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  • Ask yourself: “Is there any additional evidence or possible interpretations of existing evidence that I should be considering?
  • Avoid forming a hypothesis too early on, before you’ve had a chance to look at all the available information.

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As most of us have preexisting mental models, it is hard to change one’s mind and completely eliminate the various cognitive biases.

  1. Start with an open mind about people who disagree with you.
  2. Question your own assumptions and beliefs, aiming to understand the big picture and taking a holistic view.
  3. Be critical of sources that support your own belief.
  4. Come into the other person’s shoes and see things from their point of view, deeply and sincerely.
  5. Even if people understand your point of view, they may still stick with theirs due to their status, appearance or position.
  6. If you encounter new information, try to be curious and intrigued instead of defensive.
How to convince someone when facts fail
  • keep emotions out of the exchange;
  • discuss, don't attack;
  • listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately;
  • show respect'
  • acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion;
  • try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews. 

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