Why Do People Change Their Minds?

Jean Kaufman at PJ Media looks at the question from a political angle, but it’s something I’ve always been very curious about for other reasons: In the case of deeply held beliefs, what is it that makes some people change their minds?

It usually begins with something external, some new information encountered seemingly by accident, something that starts to bug the person because it contradicts or doesn’t fit easily into his or her pre-existing framework. It’s like a buzzing fly that won’t quit and can’t be ignored. It causes discomfort, a sense of unease, and the disequilibrium that comes from the dilemma known as cognitive dissonance. 

It’s such an unpleasant experience that people are usually eager to resolve it. How they do that is one point at which changers split off from non-changers. The latter group, if faced with that very same information, might just swat that fly — that is, in their discomfort at the knowledge that seems incongruous with their previous beliefs, they would either discredit the new information, minimize it, rationalize it, or shut it out entirely, thus ending the discomfort and the dilemma. 

But those who ultimately end up as changers can’t seem to put it away that easily. For them, something once seen cannot be unseen. Perhaps they have a different habit of mind to begin with, one more accustomed to challenging its own beliefs and assumptions, one more uncomfortable with contradictions. 


But people who end up becoming changers are much more likely to vow to get to the bottom of it and learn more, plunging ahead with research. People who do so often discover as time goes on that a great deal of what they thought they knew is actually false.

Our beliefs about things politics, religion, love, and justice (and in Alabama, football) are shaped by our perspective. Once your perspective is established it’s as set as the shape of your nose and almost as painful to change.

Christians and atheists so often try to debate each other with facts, but their argument is really a perspective argument. We all know all the same facts, basically, but it’s our perspective–the filter for those facts–that determines our beliefs.

If you could figure out the magic formula for changing that perspective, you would be a wealthy and popular person. But it’s much more the exception than the rule. Maybe, as the quote above says, it’s as simple as finding someone who’s curious enough to really dig into the opposing argument and follow the facts wherever they lead.

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