I'm deeply interested in how we can effectively change the minds of those who hold sharply contrasting points of view. Rational argument has very limited success and, in fact, can have an opposite effect of persuasion. There's a phenomenon called biased assimilation in which people automatically give more weight to information that supports their existing bias and less weight to information that contradicts it. Another phenomenon is called echo chamber where a person is so deeply entrenched in their point of view that no amount of evidence could persuade them otherwise.
Question: Do you think that trying to engage in honest debate with the opposite side on topics like guns or abortion can be beneficial or is it like pissing in the wind? Are there some tactics that are more successful than others?
Unless you enjoy confrontation, I would ask what are you getting out of it. I feel there has to be space on both sides to hear each others' viewpoints, and even then you may just agree to disagree. But if your goal is to change someone's mind, to me that's a set-up for disappointment.
I believe that to start you should read, 'The Authoritarians, by Bob Altemeyer. This book is available for free, www.theauthoritarians.com. this is a psychology professor at the University of Manitoba. Last week I learned (from another source) that 30% of the population has an IQ, below 90. And, that the military will not take a person with an IQ below 83. So, it struck me that there is a great possibility selling some people on complex ideas is going to be an up hill battle! We may need to learn a whole new set of skills for persuasion? I plan to back off, as the low IQ people, could possibly stay frozen in their position because they can't grasp the whole of an issue. I am going to see where this new revelation takes me. Note: IQ cannot be changed much, even though people can perform certain task.
I think you have to actively listen, try to understand their position, how they came to that position and have a certain amount of respect for that. All our life experiences have lead us to be the people we are today. I think sometimes we alienate or invalidate people because their reality differs from our own. Try to find understand, find common ground and branch out from there. I think often it's just a matter of opening their mind to things. Change generally doesn't happen overnight.
It's my experience that people don't want to learn from you if they disagree with you generally. About 5 min. in you get a real feel for whether someone is willing to change their mind. I'll argue anyway because some people are just stubborn, and I hold out hope for them. But it becomes very apparent when someone doesnt care about the truth. At that point, there's nothing you can do
I have successfully enlightened 2 strangers on different political issues. I find that listening to what they think the issue is about, affirming that you understand their point of view, and then peacefully speaking facts that they have perhaps never heard before works pretty well. In one instance, I was speaking with a white make in his mid forties who felt that if he could dig ditches as a youth and make something of himself then everyone should be able to do the same. I praised him for his hard work ethic and quietly pointed out that he is a white male from NJ where there are plenty of job opportunities as we are between NY and Philly, yada, yada. I also asked him if he thought that a black man from Alabama or a family living in a small industrial town where the industry has left had the same opportunities as he did? He agreed that they probably did not. At the end of the conversation, he understood that he cannot take his east coast white guy experience and rubber stamp it across the country. He told me he'd never thought of it that way before. Sometimes you just have to listen and ask leading questions in order to get through to people rather than just preach.
You will never change the mind of a religious or political "true believer." Don't even try. The best that one can do is to marginalize the person, discouage them from acting on their political beliefs. Also if that peson with a differing view is a part of a cohesive group that believes similarly, the person will stay with the views of the group through thick and thin -- no matter how far off base those views may be.
The average human is not only a dullard, they are also handicaped by emotion. An emotional person cannot seem to tell the difference between what he/she feels and logic to the contrary. In an post-secondary environment, you may find some who will change their minds/amend their posistions with confronted with logic and data but to disagree with someone's point of view in other venues invites fisticuffs. You expect a whole lot from "talking monkeys".
I've heard that personalising a side of an issue (such as pointing out someone they know who has had an abortion) has met with mild success. It's not entirely reliable, though.
I consider such debates to be pissing into the wind, but that's only because I couldn't convince a bird to fly, much less get a person to change their opinion.