How Minds Change | David McRaney

Summary of: How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion
By: David McRaney


Venture into the fascinating world of the human mind and uncover the secrets behind belief, opinion, and persuasion with the book summary of ‘How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion’ by David McRaney. This compelling overview will illuminate the psychological processes and mechanisms that govern how our beliefs and opinions form, change, and persist. Gain insights about the role of emotions, group dynamics, and cognitive biases in shaping our convictions and explore the power of deep canvassing and street epistemology to bring about meaningful change in people’s thinking.

One Changed Mind

Five “truthers,” who believe the official narrative of 9/11 is a lie, travel to New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania to meet experts and eyewitnesses who challenge their beliefs with facts and evidence on the BBC series Conspiracy Road Trip. Charlie Veitch, a prominent thought leader, changes his mind after encountering demolition experts, seeing the Twin Towers’ blueprints, attending a flight school, and meeting two people who lost family members during the attacks. The other four remain firm in their beliefs, caught in the conspiratorial loop, claiming that any contradictory evidence is purposely planted. Charlie was able to break free of the loop due to something going on in his life, which set the stage for him to change his mind.

When Beliefs Become Part of Our Identity

Neuroscientists explore the brain’s response to challenged beliefs and how group identity affects our decision-making process.

Neuroscientists Sarah Gimbel, Sam Harris, and Jonas Kaplan conducted an experiment to understand how the brain responds when deeply held beliefs are challenged. The experiment involved presenting counterarguments to a group of participants who held strong opinions about various topics. While the participants’ beliefs softened when exposed to neutral counterarguments, politically charged topics caused their brains to respond as if physical threats were present. The participants’ bodies released adrenaline, stiffening their muscles and causing blood to rush away from their nonessential organs, as if they had encountered a bear.

This reaction occurs because our brains protect our beliefs and attitudes as if they are part of our physical selves. Our brains are wired to discriminate against out-groups and towards in-groups, a process essential for survival. Consequently, we place greater value on being accepted as a group member than being factually correct. Our brain’s priority is to protect us from social death, which is more frightening than physical death.

Political beliefs represent a critical part of group identity that, when challenged, causes us to reason as a member of the group rather than individually. We want to be seen as trustworthy by our peers, so we maintain our beliefs instead of risking our standing in the group. However, if we feel our group is no longer trustworthy, we unconsciously attempt to change them through argumentation or seek out a new group that aligns more with our values. This process is the reason why people leave cults or change their minds on certain topics.

Charlie Veitch is an example of someone who changed his beliefs after finding a new community aligned more with his values. He left the truther community and joined Truth Juice, where he met a woman and felt safe and comfortable changing his mind. The experiment shows that group identity affects our decision-making process and that our beliefs become part of our identity.

Deep Canvassing: Changing Opinions Through Open Conversations

Do you think you know why you have certain thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes? Think again. We often rationalize our opinions after we’ve formed them. People make decisions based on emotions and then justify them with logic. Deep canvassing, a technique used by Steve Deline and his organization the Leadership LAB, can be used to change voters’ minds on topics like same-sex marriage and combatting homophobia and transphobia. The approach is rooted in open, honest, and vulnerable conversations that lead to mutual respect. Volunteers are taught to listen, not challenge or argue. According to political scientists David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, one deep canvassing conversation can change the views of one in ten people opposed to transgender rights. The technique has long-lasting effects and hardly ever backfires. This transformative approach may not only rewrite laws, but also create lasting change in relationships.

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