Why Is It Difficult to Change People’s Minds?


Feb 19, 2020


Image Credit: Getty Images

We’ve all been in situations where it has been difficult to convince another person to agree with what we’re saying. Now, a study has found that it gets difficult to get them on board because of certain activities in the brain that don’t allow them to say yes.

The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, states activity in the posterior medial frontal cortex or pMFC — an area involved with decision-making — increases when we agree with opinions; the brain then sends signals when decisions need to be made. When there’s disagreement, however, the pMFC doesn’t acknowledge the confidence with which the other person is presenting their judgment, therefore regarding them as wrong.

“We found that when people disagree, their brains fail to encode the quality of the other person’s opinion, giving them less reason to change their mind,” professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London and principal investigator on the study Tali Sharot said in a press release. “The behavioral tendency to discount disconfirming information has significant implications for individuals and society as it can generate polarization and facilitate the maintenance of false beliefs.”

To reach the above conclusion, researchers split 42 people into pairs. Each pair was asked to estimate the price of real estate property and determine whether it was worth more or less than US$ 1 million. They were also asked to bet 1 to 60 cents depending on how confident they were about the price.  

Then each participant was scanned through an fMRI, and shown the same real estate properties again with a reminder about their estimates and how much they had bet on it. Then, they were told their partner’s estimate and betting amount. Following these two exercises, each participant had to submit a final betting amount based on how confident they were about their first estimate.

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On doing this, the researchers observed that when the estimates of the partners matched, the participants were ready to increase their betting amount to match their partner’s, made possible by decision-making activity in the brain’s pMFC.

When they were in disagreement, there was no change in brain activity in the pMFC.

“Our findings could help make sense of some puzzling observations in a wide range of life domains where confirmation bias occurs, including politics, business and the media, such as the power of ‘fake news’, and our relationships,” Andreas Kappes, PhD, first author of the study and lecturer in psychology at City, University of London, said in a press release. “For instance, over the last decade, climate scientists have expressed greater confidence that climate change is manmade. Yet, the percentage of the population that believe this notion to be true has dropped over the same period of time. While there are complex, multi-layered reasons for this specific trend, such examples may be related to a bias in how the strength of other’s opinions are encoded in our brain.”


Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.


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