Skip to content

When Facts Don’t Matter

An important question I have been pondering is why people insist on supporting Donald Trump, even though there is plenty of evidence that he not only lies, lies about things that are easily verified to be false, and even contradict himself. From a progressive perspective, how do we get people to “wake up” and realize that they are being duped by a charlatan? Are we wasting our time?

A recent article can help shed some light on this matter. “Why facts don’t matter to Trump’s supporters” helps explain why people persist in misjudgments despite strong contrary evidence and why attempts to refute false information often backfire and cause people to hold onto their misperceptions even stronger.

The bottom line is that “arguing the facts doesn’t help — in fact it makes the situation worse.” This is called “confirmation bias” — our ability to ignore facts that challenge our beliefs while accepting arguments (even false ones) that confirm our views.

This is not confined to politics. In a study about consumer fraud, a study found that warning people about false claims made about consumer products actually made people believe the false claims even more. “It seems that people remember the assertion and forget whether it is a lie.”

But there is hope. Another study showed that people are more likely to accept information if it is presented unemotionally, and that people are even more willing to accept information if the factual presentation is accompanied by “affirmation” that asks them to recall an experience that made them feel good about themselves. Obviously, attacking someone is not a way to win their hearts or their minds.

Regardless of whether they are Trump supporters or parents who don’t want to have their children vaccinated, attacking them doesn’t help. In fact, it will usually backfire. Instead, in order to change someone’s mind, you need to follow some simple guidelines. Lucky for us there is help in the form of “The Debunking Handbook“. Here’s their introduction:

Debunking myths is problematic. Unless great care is taken, any effort to debunk misinformation can inadvertently reinforce the very myths one seeks to correct. To avoid these “back re effects”, an effective debunking requires three major elements. First, the refutation must focus on core facts rather than the myth to avoid the misinformation becoming more familiar. Second, any mention of a myth should be preceded by explicit warnings to notify the reader that the upcoming information is false. Finally, the refutation should include an alternative explanation that accounts for important qualities in the original misinformation.

So before you try to change someone’s mind, go read the handbook. It will help.