Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Can you change beliefs? - Republican vs Democrat

In January 2006, a group of scientists led by neuroscientist and political campaign advisor Drew Westen demonstrated just how tough it can be to change someone’s mind - especially if it concerns something about which they have a strong opinion.
In the run-up to that year’s US presidential election, which was contested by George Bush and John Kerry, Westen and his colleagues ran an experiment involving 15 committed Democrats and 15 committed Republicans. Their aim was to see how the brains of the partisan voters dealt with clearly inconsistent statements made by the favoured candidates.

So they put each voter into an MRI machine and scanned their brains as they read a set of statements on slides designed to trigger contradictions between the candidate’s words and deeds. The subjects of the experiment were not told that the statements had been concocted but made to look real.

One statement, for example, was purported to have been made by George W. Bush while visiting a veterans administration hospital: ‘Having been here and seeing the care that these troops get is comforting for me and Laura. We are, should and must provide the best care for anybody who is willing to put their life in harm’s way for our country’.

The next slide gave a contradictory statement: ‘Mr Bush’s visit came on the same day that the Administration announced an immediate cut-off of VA hospital access to approximately 164,000 veterans’.

The subjects of the experiment were asked to rate the extent to which the candidate’s words and deeds were contradictory, from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree).

When their non-favoured candidates were involved, the subjects had no problem seeing the contradictions, rating their statements close to a 4: they strongly agreed that the candidate was being contradictory. Yet when it came to their preferred candidates, both the Republicans and the Democrats rated the contradictions closer to a 2, indicating minimal contradiction. When they analysed the brain imagery, the researchers could see that the voters felt distress when they first encountered a contradiction from their candidate.

But then something amazing happened. As the committed voter did the mental gymnastics to justify the contradiction, the part of their brain where positive emotion is registered lit up. Using biased reasoning, the voters squared the words with the deeds and justified what was clearly a contradiction, and they were mentally rewarded for their efforts.

When we strongly believe something, we have a built-in protection against reasoning: we can twist just about anything to suit our beliefs. So how does a leader help a group with a strong opinion to see things from a new perspective?

The study proves that reasoning won't work. A set of beliefs constitutes a consistent 'story' in the mind of the believer. To change that story you need to tell a better story.


Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drew_Westen
Story Type: Business Purpose; Insight
Labels: Beliefs; Change Management

For Story Students
The Setting: 2006 Presidential Elections
The Complications: Democrat and Republican voters were given clearly contradictory information about the presidential candidates. They were able to override their rational processes for their favorite candidates.
The Turning Point: The major finding of the study is that people are able to override clear evidence in favour of well held beliefs
The Resolution: Be aware that rational argument normally cannot change beliefs
The Point of the Story: Stories can change beliefs where assertions and statements of evidence fail
How to use this story: We use this story in our story workshops

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