Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Gentle Art of Persuasion

Monbiot's got a great post up about why people aren't easily swayed by clear facts.

He sites a study that finds, " some cases debunking a false story can increase the number of people who believe it. In one study, 34% of conservatives who were told about the Bush government’s claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction were inclined to believe them. But among those who were shown that the government’s claims were later comprehensively refuted by the Duelfer report, 64% ended up believing that Iraq had WMD."... 

Even more interesting, the researchers further found this:  "Those who see themselves as individualists and those who respect authority, for example, “tend to dismiss evidence of environmental risks, because the widespread acceptance of such evidence would lead to restrictions on commerce and industry, activities they admire.” Those with more egalitarian values are “more inclined to believe that such activities pose unacceptable risks and should be restricted.”  These divisions, researchers have found, are better at explaining different responses to information than any other factor: race, gender, class, income, education or personality type. Our ideological filters encourage us to interpret new evidence in ways that reinforce our beliefs. “As a result, groups with opposing values often become more polarized, not less, when exposed to scientifically sound information.”

Isn't that a kicker.  So what do we do now?  I know from social psych courses way back when that to be persuasive, we should look and act as much as we can like the people we're trying to persuade, i.e. a power suit.  Yet I balk at that.  I look like you'd expect an environmentally-minded social science teacher who organizes festivals to look, and I'm too stubborn or lazy to change that.  But it's not to say I don't care about being persuasive, but that I want people to be smart enough to look at the information objectively and see that I'm right, dammit!

According to this study, a change in costume won't help anyway.  We need environmentalism to be seen as not restricting commerce by focusing on business opportunities created by solar and wind power.  That's a hard sell because coal and nuclear plants create a ton of jobs and money immediately in one place.  Solar and wind tend to be smaller, more spread out opportunities.  It's just not as enticing. And when it comes to certain ingredients, we really do want to be restrictive.  How do we morph banning toxins into a good business deal?

Monbiot finishes with this:  "Perhaps we have to accept that there is no simple solution to public disbelief in science. The battle over climate change suggests that the more clearly you spell the problem out, the more you turn people away. If they don’t want to know, nothing and no one will reach them. There goes my life’s work."

Oh, George.  Just because we can't think of way around this one doesn't mean there isn't one.  You just need a longer life.  

Cross-posted from Project Earth Blog, March 9, 2010

No comments: