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How To Change Someone’s Mind, According To Science

Source | FastCompany : By Art Markman

As soon as the news broke that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died last month, Senate Republicans made it clear they wouldn’t be holding a vote on any candidate President Obama nominated. Two weeks ago, Obama went ahead and nominated Merrick Garland for the vacancy. Now Democrats are trying to change Republicans’ minds about holding a confirmation hearing. It won’t be easy.


Psychologically speaking, changing someone’s mind is pretty difficult, even when you don’t have politics to factor in. A handful of Republican senators facing tight re-election campaigns in November have shown signs of being a little more flexible, but they’re in the minority. In politics, public statements are hard to roll back, which makes Democrats’ push to confirm a new justice in the remainder of Obama’s term a doubly difficult proposition.

But changing someone’s mind about a high-stakes position is a challenge many of us confront. Maybe your customers have preconceived ideas about your brand or products that you’d like to influence, or perhaps upper management is leaning toward a decision that you disagree with. In order to get someone to reconsider their views, it’s important to understand the role of coherence in supporting beliefs.

Going back to the 1950s, psychologists have recognized the interplay among different aspects of knowledge that influence our overall set of beliefs. Building off that research, the cognitive scientist Paul Thagard has more recently put forth the concept of “explanatory coherence.”

The idea is that our strongly held beliefs form a network of consistent concepts. For example, I might believe that multitasking is a good thing. I support that belief with aspects of my own experience: Maybe I remember having especially productive days while multitasking. I also know of other colleagues who multitask, which strengthens my belief that it works.

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