How Minds Change with David McCraney

Have you ever felt frustrated by the fact that people tend to stick to their guns, even when presented with indisputable evidence that their beliefs are completely unfounded or plain wrong?

It turns out there is a very good reason why this happens. Psychologists call it the backfire effect. It makes us dig our heels deeper when presented with evidence that disproves what we hold as truth.

The backfire effect and a number of other well known psychological processes such as motivated reasoning turned my guest, David McCraney, into a skeptic when it comes to effective persuasion. For a long time, David believed that convincing people to change their deeply held beliefs is not just frustrating but entirely futile.

But then, he got curious about what leads to seemingly sudden changes of public opinion, like the one around same sex marriage. He started researching it and discovered a hidden yet powerful process that made it possible. That discovery changed his mind about the feasibility of changing minds.

In this episode, David and I do a deep dive into the science of practices and methodologies that when used well can lead to significant changes in how people think, feel and act.

“I don’t feel like anyone is unreachable. I don’t feel like anyone is unpersuadable”

Episode Highlights

Here are some of the questions we answer in our conversation with David:

  • Why do our attempts to talk some sense into people never seem to work?
  • Why it’s naïve to assume that we can convince others by merely presenting them with facts?
  • How does something called “naïve realism” stand in the way of our ability to be open to different points of view?
  • How do different motivations lead different people to different perceptions?
  • Motivated reasoning – what is it and why are our brains such incredibly powerful justifications and rationalization engines?
  • What’s the evolutionary value of arguing and debate?
  • What’s the hidden process behind rapid, sometimes seemingly overnight changes in public opinion, i.e. on same-sex marriage – and how can we use it in our companies to drive positive change?
  • Why do we put off important conversations – something that often costs us hundreds if not thousands of hours down the line?
  • Pluralistic ignorance – how does it emerge and how can we avoid it?
  • What’s the role of play in creating a work of genius?
  • How can we have conversations that will lead everyone to change their minds and that can help a group arrive at an outcome or conclusion that is far superior to the one they could have arrived at on their own?

“You want all the perspectives to be expressed because nobody is entirely right but each perspective has something valuable to add. To get to truth or innovation, you need to create an environment where people’s Venn diagrams overlap”

Listen to the interview in the player below or on iTunes. If you like what you hear, please leave a review, and it may be featured on a future episode.

More About David McRaney

David McRaney is a science journalist fascinated with brains, minds, and culture.

He created the blog/book/podcast You Are Not So Smart to get a better understanding of self delusion and motivated reasoning, and before that he worked in construction, selling leather coats, and even owned two pet stores for a few years.

He started the blog in 2009, and it became an internationally bestselling book shortly after, now available in 17 languages. It then became a podcast that was once part of Boing Boing. On that podcast he continues to interview scientists who study the psychology of reasoning, decision-making, and judgment. His second book, You Are Now Less Dumb, was released in 2013, and his third book, How Minds Change was released in June of 2022.

He has been an editor, photographer, voiceover artist, television host, journalism teacher, lecturer, and tornado survivor. He also worked for several years as the head of digital media for WDAM-TV where he produced The Green Couch Sessions, a TV show about the music of the Deep South. He’s done some commercial work as well, writing for Heineken, Duck Tape, and a few others. He recently appeared in a Reebok ad that I also helped write.

Most recently, after finishing How Minds Change, he wrote, produced, and recorded a six-hour audio documentary exploring the history of the idea and the word: genius.

“The biggest problems in organizations are usually caused by the fact that some really important conversations haven’t happened yet”

Books mentioned

The Invisible Gorilla by by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

How Minds Change by David McRaney

The Enigma of Reason by Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier

Imaginable by Jane McGonigal

You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney

People mentioned

Tom Stafford

Julia Shaw

Michelle Oberman

Additional resources

You Are Not So Smart blog and podcast


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