The universe is constantly clamoring to change your mind about something – whether it’s in the form of Twitter feuds, political debates or Mountain Dew’s horrible “puppy monkey baby” Super Bowl ad. But how many of these appeals to alter our views really succeed?
A new paper from researchers at Cornell University sheds some light on how and why people are convinced to change their minds. The researchers analyzed nearly two years of postings on ChangeMyView, a forum on the internet community reddit where posters present an argument and invite people to reason against them.
These arguments on ChangeMyView range widely in terms of topic. “People don’t define who they are, their genetics and environment do,” reads one. “Zoos are immoral,” says another. “I think that the vast majority of Bernie supporters are selfish and ill-informed,” reads one thread, which received 1125 comments in one day.
Science news in pictures
Science news in pictures
1/18 Vegetables grow well in soil from Mars
Scientists have taken a leaf out of the script of The Martian by showing how easy it would be to grow your own veg on the Red Planet. In the hit Ridley Scott film, a stranded astronaut played by Matt Damon uses his botanical skills to cultivate potatoes. Now his success has been emulated by researchers in the Netherlands who harvested tomatoes, peas, rye, rocket, radish and cress raised on simulated Martian soil supplied by Nasa
2/18 Ancient Roman 'leisure complex' unearthed in Jerusalem
An ancient Roman estate complete with its own wine press and bathhouse has been unearthed in Jerusalem. A series of buildings dating back at least 1,600 years were discovered underneath the city's famous Schneller Orphanage which operated on the site from 1860 until the end of the Second World War, when it was turned into an army base. The ruins were discovered by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority who were excavating the site ahead of building new flats for the city's Orthodox Jewish community
3/18 Scientists discover possible new species of deep-sea octopus nicknamed 'Casper'
Scientists believe they may have found a new species of octopus likened in appearance to Casper, the friendly cartoon ghost. Researchers with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made the discovery by chance as they searched the seabed on an unrelated mission collecting geological samples. Teams were operating an unmanned submarine on the Pacific Ocean floor at depths of more than four kilometres (two-and-a-half miles) in the Hawaiian Islands when they spotted the unusual creature
4/18 Black hole captured eating a star then vomiting it back out
Astronomers have captured a black hole eating a star and then sicking a bit of it back up for the first time ever. The scientists tracked a star about as big as our sun as it was pulled from its normal path and into that of a supermassive black hole before being eaten up. They then saw a high-speed flare get thrust out, escaping from the rim of the black hole. Scientists have seen black holes killing and swallowing stars. And the jets have been seen before.But a new study shows the first time that they have captured the hot flare that comes out just afterwards. And the flare and then swallowed star have not been linked together before
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Brains cannot be categorised into female and male, according to the first study to look at sex differences in the whole brain. Specific parts of the brain do show sex differences, but individual brains rarely have all “male” traits or all “female” traits. Some characteristics are more common in women, while some are more common in men, and some are common in both men and women, according to the study
6/18 Dog-sized horned dinosaur fossil found shows east-west evolutionary divide in North America
A British scientist has uncovered the fossil of a dog-sized horned dinosaur that roamed eastern North America up to 100 million years ago. The fragment of jaw bone provides evidence of an east-west divide in the evolution of dinosaurs on the North American continent. During the Late Cretaceous period, 66 to 100 million years ago, the land mass was split into two continents by a shallow sea. This sea, the Western Interior Seaway, ran from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. Dinosaurs living in the western continent, called Laramidia, were similar to those found in Asia
7/18 Asteroid to skim past Earth on Halloween 2015
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8/18 Life on Earth appeared hundreds of millions of years earlier than previously thought
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9/18 Earth could be at risk of meteor impacts
Earth could be in danger as our galaxy throws out comets that could hurtle towards us and wipe us out, scientists have warned. Scientists have previously presumed that we are in a relatively safe period for meteor impacts, which are linked with the journey of our sun and its planets, including Earth, through the Milky Way. But some orbits might be more upset than we know, and there is evidence of recent activity, which could mean that we are passing through another meteor shower. Showers of meteors periodically pass through the area where the Earth is, as gravitational disturbances upset the Oort Cloud, which is a shell of icy objects on the edge of the solar system. They happen on a 26-million year cycle, scientists have said, which coincide with mass extinctions over the last 260-million years
10/18 Genetically-engineered, extra-muscular dogs
Chinese scientists have created genetically-engineered, extra-muscular dogs, after editing the genes of the animals for the first time. The scientists create beagles that have double the amount of muscle mass by deleting a certain gene, reports the MIT Technology Review. The mutant dogs have “more muscles and are expected to have stronger running ability, which is good for hunting, police (military) applications”, Liangxue Lai, one of the researchers on the project. Now the team hope to go on to create other modified dogs, including those that are engineered to have human diseases like muscular dystrophy or Parkinson’s. Since dogs’ anatomy is similar to those of humans’, intentionally creating dogs with certain human genetic traits could allow scientists to further understand how they occur
11/18 Nasa confirms Mars water discovery
Nasa has announced that it has found evidence of flowing water on Mars. Scientists have long speculated that Recurring Slope Lineae — or dark patches — on Mars were made up of briny water but the new findings prove that those patches are caused by liquid water, which it has established by finding hydrated salts.
12/18 Bees in the Rocky Mountains are evolving shorter tongues
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13/18 The majority of the UK public believe in aliens
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14/18 Researchers discover 'lost world' of arctic dinosaurs
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15/18 Scientists find exactly what human corpses smell like
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17/18 A team of filmmakers in the US have made the first ever scale model of the Solar System in a Nevada desert
Illustrations of the Earth and moon show the two to be quite close together, Mr Overstreet said. This is inaccurate, the reason being that these images are not to scale.
18/18 Academics claim a full bladder makes for a better liar
People lie more convincingly if they have a full bladder, according to research by academics at California State University. Iris Blandón-Gitlin's team asked 22 students to lie to a panel of interviewers. Half were given 700ml to drink before the interview and the other half, just 50ml. The students with the full bladders showed fewer signs that they were lying and their untrue answers were longer and more detailed, meaning interviewers were less able to detect that they were telling porkies. PM David Cameron has previously attested to giving speeches on a full bladder.
Unlike the mindless clashes you often see on Twitter or Facebook, commentors on ChangeMyView explain their reasoning at length. The forum also requires the poster let others know when their view has changed by awarding the other poster a ∆ (a “delta,” the Greek letter used in math to denote change) and explaining exactly what modified their view. By looking at these exchanges, the researchers can study exactly what persuades people outside the laboratory and also have access to mass quantities of data.
Their research suggests that the arguments that end up changing people’s minds have certain dynamics. Numbers are important: The more people that try to persuade the original poster, the greater the likelihood of changing their view. So is timing: Those who write back first to the post first are more likely to persuade the original poster than those who write later, as the lefthand chart below shows.
Interestingly, the researchers find that some back-and-forth exchange between participants is a sign of success in convincing someone, but that a lot of it is a sign of failure -- shown in the chart below on the right.
After five rounds of back-and-forth comments between the original poster and the challenger, the challenger has virtually no chance of receiving a delta, they write. “Perhaps while some engagement signals the interest of the [original poster], too much engagement can indicate futile insistence.” One reddit user summed it up like this: “Lesson being that if you haven’t convinced someone after four replies each, your argument isn’t gonna be the one to move them.”
There are also significant differences in language between arguments that persuade and those that don't.
The researchers find that the factor most linked with successfully persuading someone is using different words than the original posts do – a sign that commentators are bringing in new points of view. They find that longer replies tend to be more convincing, as do arguments that use calmer language.
The research suggests that using specific examples is a big help. Definite articles (“the” rather than “a”) are more present in persuasive arguments, suggesting that it helps to speak in specifics. Successful arguments use the phrases “for example,” “for instance,” and “e.g.” more often. Quotations and question marks don’t appear to help the argument, but including links to supporting material does.
Surprisingly, they find that hedging – using language like “it could be the case” – is actually associated with more persuasive arguments. While hedging can signal a weaker point of view, the researchers say that it can also make an argument easier to accept by softening its tone.
Finally, they argue that language tells us something about whether the person’s mind can be changed in the first place. The researchers note that the language a person uses to express the original opinion shows, to a great extent, whether their opinion is malleable or not.
They find that first person pronouns (“I”) indicate an opinion is malleable, but first person plural pronouns (“we”) suggest the opposite. Changeable opinions are also expressed more calmly and more positively, using words including “help” and “please,” and more adjectives and adverbs.
Stubborn views are expressed with more excitement, and using decisive words like “anyone,” “certain,” and “nothing,” and superlative adjectives like “worst” and “best.”
Use these strategies when you argue, but remember that convincing someone of your point of view is no easy task. The researchers point out that, even in this reddit forum where people are expressly charged with being open-minded, opinions don’t change in the majority of cases.
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