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Persuasion: Fascinating Study Shows How To Open A Closed Mind

Everyone does not have the same needs, nor do we have the same degree of commitment to an issue. Sometimes your audience may not be open to change. The perception of change may be painful for them and seem like an attack on long-held values or beliefs. Change can be perceived as invalidating our experiences or past.

Other times, change can just take too much energy—your audience may not want to expend their resources on the change you hope to accomplish. Change may require the audience to do further research or to work at the change and requires the audience to think. Your audience may not want to change because they lack the knowledge or value of what you are wanting to accomplish.

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And lastly, your audience may not be open to change because of the peer pressure. A successful persuasive speaker can work to lessen these fears in their audience. The audience attitude toward your topic may impact the change you seek. If your audience is positive, you may need to reinforce or strengthen their existing thoughts or behaviors by working to provide current evidence.

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If your audience is negative, you will need to call them to action by showing them that change needs to happen and that they need to do something like sign a petition, vote, give money, etc. But you, the expert, know that mousetraps are so over. Mousetrap sales are on the rise.

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You could look it up yourself. Not just entrepreneurs pitching investors. All of us spend much of our day trying to persuade people to do things that we want them to do, but that they might not want to do. Researchers Brendan Nyhan from Dartmouth University and Jason Reifler from Georgia State considered that question in a context where convictions tend to be especially resistant to facts: politics.

They ran experiments where they presented people with information that contradicted their political attitudes. They deliberately chose topics that were highly emotional — highly polarizing issues that make people really dig in their heels.

Persuasion: Fascinating Study Shows How To Open A Closed Mind

The researchers simply wanted to know what might get people to accept evidence that contradicted their deeply held beliefs. The least effective approach was explaining the facts in words. The most effective of the three techniques was simply presenting the information in a simple chart like the one below.

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All visuals used in the study were simple plain-vanilla graphs, so their power had nothing to do with fancy design or big production values. They were effective because they spoke to the brain in its native language.


  1. Open to persuasion;
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  4. Italian translation of 'open to persuasion'!
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Our brains privilege visual information over any other kind. More processing power is devoted to it. Studies have shown that we understand images more quickly than words and remember them longer.