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How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion

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In this lively journey through human psychology, bestselling author and creator of the You Are Not So Smart podcast David McRaney investigates how minds change--and how to change minds.

What made a prominent conspiracy-theorist YouTuber finally see that 9/11 was not a hoax? How do voter opinions shift from neutral to resolute? Can widespread social change take place only when a generation dies out? From one of our greatest thinkers on reasoning, How Minds Change is a book about the science, and the experience, of transformation.

When self-delusion expert and psychology nerd David McRaney began a book about how to change someone's mind in one conversation, he never expected to change his own. But then a diehard 9/11 Truther's conversion blew up his theories--inspiring him to ask not just how to persuade, but why we believe, from the eye of the beholder. Delving into the latest research of psychologists and neuroscientists, How Minds Change explores the limits of reasoning, the power of group-think, and the effects of deep canvassing. Told with McRaney's trademark sense of humor, compassion, and scientific curiosity, it's an eye-opening journey among cult members, conspiracy theorists, and political activists, from Westboro Baptist Church picketers to LGBTQ campaigners in California--that ultimately challenges us to question our own motives and beliefs. In an age of dangerous conspiratorial thinking, can we rise to the occasion with empathy?

352 pages, Hardcover

First published June 21, 2022

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About the author

David McRaney

7 books504 followers
At his blog You Are Not So Smart—and in the book of the same title—David focuses on why humans are so "unaware of how unaware we are." His newest book, You Are Now Less Dumb, expands on these ideas of self-delusion and offers ways to overcome the brain's natural tendencies.

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Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,161 reviews1,255 followers
November 13, 2022
3.5 stars

This is a very interesting, readable, and relevant pop psychology book, including some important insights and far more actionable information than such books usually offer. Some of its claims seem unsupported and some sections feel a bit tangential, and it is focused on the most contentious issues in current American politics, but overall it’s definitely worth a read for those interested in the subject.

The book explores the science and some human-interest stories around changing minds, and also three different methods that various groups have used to notable success. First, some notes about the theory:

- As those interested in the subject likely already know, the truth is tribal. The book explores this quite a bit: one study even found that people in an MRI machine exposed to challenges to deeply-held views impinging on group identity had their brains react the same way as to a physical threat! Our group membership really is that important to us.

- For that reason, people tend to be impervious to logical arguments countering their views (they also likely have other sources for their own arguments, which they trust more). People leaving hate groups or conspiracy theory communities don’t tend to do it because they’ve been talked out of their group’s beliefs. Instead, they feel less welcome in their group, or begin to feel welcomed in another, and a change of allegiance allows them to change their views.

- The book never really squares this with the fact that many people do in fact hold beliefs counter to their dominant social identification, sometimes even beliefs they wish they didn’t hold. And of course, once you move beyond the most hot-button, heated political and social issues, people convince each other of things with facts all the time.

- A useful model for how people evaluate arguments is the “central route” vs the “peripheral route.” If someone has reason to pay close attention, they use the central route, and critically evaluate the strength of arguments. If the issue isn’t that important to them, or they’re distracted, they use the peripheral route, where weak arguments, emotional appeals, etc., are more likely to succeed.

- A bit of countervailing evidence can actually strengthen our opinions, though there is a tipping point. In one study, participants who received 10-20% negative information about their candidate supported them even more strongly than those who received none. But those who received 40-80% negative changed their minds.

- People will form group identities around literally anything, and then prefer their in-group. Researchers get participants to do this in the lab all the time, with truly meaningless “identities” such as overestimators or underestimators of the number of dots on a page.

- An interesting argument about the purpose of opinions: because none of our personal opinions are likely to impact policy (let alone our actual lives), we primarily hold them as badges of social identity and belonging. The book tries to tie this to evolutionary psychology, suggesting that social identity is the only reason we have these opinions in the first place (which I don’t think really works—humans evolved to live in small bands where your opinion probably would matter), but it’s a helpful corrective to our usual assumptions.

- Another intriguing if questionable argument is that the reason we all have lots of cognitive biases (like confirmation bias, in which we only heed information that supports our beliefs), making it hard to evaluate our own arguments—but we do a great job of finding the holes in other people’s—is that this is in fact most efficient from the group’s perspective. In other words, we evolved to argue so that the group could arrive at the best decision.

Then, there are three methods that have had some success in changing people’s minds. Here’s the one discussed most in-depth, developed by the Los Angeles LGBT center to try to convince people on specific issues:

1) Ask if someone is interested in discussing the issue, and establish rapport.
2) Ask how strongly they feel about the issue on a scale of 1-10.
3) Share a story about someone affected by the issue (whether it’s you or a third party doesn’t seem to matter).
4) Ask for a number rating again.
5) Ask why the number feels right to them.
6) Repeat their reasoning back in their own words, ask if that sounds right, repeat until they are satisfied.
7) Ask if there was a time before they felt that way, and if so, how did they arrive at their current position?
8) Listen, summarize, repeat.
9) Briefly share your personal story about how you reached your position, without arguing.
10) Ask for a final rating and wrap up.

McRaney relates several success stories with this method, which seems to center around having a non-threatening, non-judgmental conversation about an issue, and catalyzing the other person’s exploration of their own reasoning. Early studies have been done on just how successful the method is, suggesting that it can appreciably affect the opinions of 10% of participants in just a 10-20 minute conversation (which in electoral terms, is huge).

There are definite sampling bias issues here, as those involved have consented to have the conversation in the first place (though often because vehemently opposed to the issue in question! Though interestingly, people who state their opinions vehemently then sometimes put themselves in the middle of that 1-10 range). The biggest issue with McRaney’s stories for me was that they all seem to be of people who have compelling personal reasons to change their views already (most often related to someone they care about who is personally affected), and just somehow seem to have not yet worked through that. It’s unclear whether the method only works on people in this situation, or whether McRaney just chose those stories because they seemed most compelling.

Here’s another method, called “street epistemology,” this one geared at getting people to explore their reasoning on factual claims:

1) Establish rapport, ask for consent to explore the person’s reasoning.
2) Ask them for a factual claim.
3) Repeat back in your own words until they’re satisfied with your summary.
4) Clarify their definitions, and use their definitions, not yours.
5) Ask for a numerical rating of their confidence in the claim.
6) Ask why they hold that level of confidence.
7) Ask what method they’ve used to judge the quality of their reasons, and focus the conversation on exploring their method.
8) Listen, summarize, repeat.
9) Wrap up.

I found the stories about this method even less convincing than the previous (and this one doesn’t seem to have been scientifically studied). It seems like a fun exercise for those who enjoy Socratic conversations, but even within the anecdotes cherry-picked for the book, no one actually changes their mind. McRaney tells a weird story in which he offers to demonstrate the method for a workshop participant, who proposes as a topic his (the participant’s) belief in God. The participant then shares an emotional story of why he decided to believe after struggling with doubt. McRaney promptly declares that proceeding with the exercise would take away the man’s faith and that would be wrong, at which point they quit and everybody hugs it out.

Honestly, it came across to me like McRaney just wanted to quit while he was ahead and cede the floor gracefully rather than making himself look like the bad guy. I was not at all convinced that either he or the method was nearly so powerful as he claimed. His stated reason for telling this story is that it’s important to examine why you want to convince someone of something, but he covers that far more effectively in a brief story about trying to talk his father out of a conspiracy theory. Lobbing arguments back and forth frustrated everyone, but when McRaney stopped to say “I love you and I’m worried you’re being misled,” they went on to have a productive conversation.

For completeness’s sake, here’s the third method, which has been tested primarily by political groups trying to change people’s attitudes (about vaccination, for instance):

1) Build rapport, ask for consent to explore the person’s reasoning.
2) Ask where the person is on the issue on a scale of 1-10.
3) If they’re at 1, ask: why would other people be higher on the scale? If above 1, ask: why not lower?
4) Summarize the person’s reasons in your own words until they’re satisfied that you’ve gotten it.

These methods all draw on therapeutic principles: people need to convince themselves, and they need a non-judgmental space to do it in. Arguing, hectoring and shaming won’t change someone’s views on hot-button issues—though it will change their view of you!

Definitely an interesting book overall and a worthwhile read (hence the sheer amount I’ve found helpful to write down), though some chapters feel more tangential than others. It’s rare among pop psych books in offering so much encouraging and practical information, which readers can put to use in daily life—though perhaps the biggest takeaway is that you can’t change someone’s mind without their consent, or without putting in some real work yourself.
Profile Image for Cari.
Author 17 books128 followers
May 7, 2022
I read both of McRaney's previous books and enjoyed the journeys they took through typical cognitive fallacies. It is good to occasionally flip one's thinking upside down, and McRaney does this in a deep and intuitive way in this book. McRaney wanted to find out how people with strong convictions flipped over into a new way of thinking. He examines Deep Canvassing and Social Epistomology, two different ways of talking with and listening to people so they can understand others' perspectives. He talks to people like Megan Phelps-Roper, who left the Westboro Baptist Church (and has her own book, UNFOLLOW). He also talks with Charlie Veitch, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist who changed his mind after being on a television show that connected him with the victims' families. I liked the idea of a "tipping point" - people may invite a few new ideas in, then slowly add more until they are fully on the new side and want to know everything about it. I think many of us can relate to this, even if it's just about something innocuous like discovering a hobby or a new author to read. This book leans left, so if you're a die-hard conservative, it may not resonate with you. But who knows... something might change your mind.
Profile Image for Mary-Lou.
5 reviews
July 13, 2022
I kind of binge read this one. I love to learn new things, especially about psychology, but if gets too scientific I get sleepy while reading it (which prolongs the time it takes for me to finish the book quite a bit). In this case I must say I was really delighted about the writing style. It is a perfect blend of science description in a manner that is easy to understand but also not in a way that underestimates the reader. The whole book and the authors insights are told in a story manner so we join him on a discovery adventure, which makes its really enjoyable. The added lightheartedness made it even better. Content wise I can just say: wow. This definitely gave me a lot to think about and question. It also sheds light on the not so wonderful situation the whole world seems to be in and I will definitely try to be more compassionate and kinder towards people with other opinions as well as towards myself. You might have guessed it already, but I can definitely recommend this book. Let's see how I fit it into my world view ;) And what I want to update. It kind of leaves me with a few existentiell questions...anyways before I start to muse further, I will just recommend checking the book out for yourself.
Profile Image for عبدالرحمن عقاب.
690 reviews799 followers
November 6, 2022
قرأت لـ"ديفيد مكريني" كتابين سابقين، امتازا بجمال العرض. فصول قصيرة يعرض كل واحدٍ منها مفهوماً محدداً؛ بياناً ودليلا ومثالاً.
تمنيت لو مضى هذا الكتاب على نسق سابقيه. لكنه خيّب ظني في إسهابه واستخدامه لأسلوبٍ "غلادوِلي" لم يُجِده. أقصد النسبة لأسلوب الكاتب "مالكولم جلادوِل". وهو أسلوب يُغرق الفكرة في قصص مطولة.

يبحث الكتاب في الكيفية التي تتغيّر فيها أفكار الشخص، بادئا بما يجعل المرء متشبثا بأفكاره، مغاليا في ثقته، رافضا ما يخالفه. ثم يمضي بدراسة الحالات البينية التي تهيئه لتغيير رأيه وتبديله بذاته أو تحت تأثير الرأي الجدل أو الإغواء أو المجتمع. ويصل الكتاب بقارئه إلى فصل يتحدث عن التغيير الاجتماعي، بصورته الأكبر والأوضح.

في الكتاب كثير من المفاهيم التي تستحق التفكّر، بآحادها لا بمجملها وصورتها العامة.
والكتاب بمجمله لا يرقى فكرة ولا طرحا ولا أسلوبا إلى مستوى سابقيه.
Profile Image for David Steele.
454 reviews17 followers
July 22, 2022
I saw David McRaney on the Modern Wisdom podcast (episode 493) and thought it was one of the most fascinating conversations I’d heard on the show. I have to be honest though; the book didn’t live up to that.
There was a lot of good information in this book, but it was thinly-spread jam between thick pads of bread that I could have happily done without. The majority of this book was given to long, often repeating conversations with enlightened and clever leftists who had developed ways to help conservatives realise how flawed their arguments were.
It turns out that these step-by-step processes can be used to help people uncover flaws in their own reasoning. These techniques could be equally applied to arguments of the left, of course, but this was never discussed.
Chapter 6 “The Truth is Tribal” and Chapter 9 “Street Epistemology” contain a wealth of information that’s worth the price of the book. As for the rest of it - try the podcast.
To cut a very long story short - you’ll never change anyone’s cherished beliefs by presenting them with facts, logic and clever argument. If you ever try to argue somebody out of their beliefs, they’ll just change how they feel about you.
Profile Image for Maher Razouk.
672 reviews187 followers
January 3, 2023
Is this Malcolm gladwell's book? No . Oh sorry I thought it is . Because it is not about how minds change . It is like a novel or sth !! The author just keeps telling us stories . What the heck?? I thought this is a scientific book . I'm very disappointed
Profile Image for Matt Pitts.
598 reviews43 followers
January 1, 2023
This is an absolutely fascinating book. McRaney is an exceptionally clear writer and a compelling story teller. He does not present himself as the expert but as learner-in-chief eager to share what he has gleaned from the experts. He’s not dogmatic or smug, but curious and humble.

I did not agree with everything he wrote (in some cases I profoundly disagreed), and I wish he had left out the occasional strong offensive language, but I found this book profoundly helpful and insightful not only on the subject of personal persuasion and mind-change, but also in explaining and accounting for the swift large-scale national-level change of mind we’ve seen in recent years.
7 reviews1 follower
Want to read
February 5, 2021
The author recently spoke about this (as yet unreleased) book on Michael Taft’s Deconstructing Yourself podcast. Although my expectations were low after hearing David’s bio (I’m not usually a fan of so popularly-titled books as his first two), I was impressed with his clarity of thinking and obvious command of what we might call post-rational psychology. Enough to put this book into my “want to read” bucket.
Profile Image for Thomas Edmund.
937 reviews58 followers
November 28, 2022
I spotted this book a few weeks back as it really is up my alley - but even with a lot of such books on my shelf I felt this had a lot to offer.

The approach is hard to explain - its at once eclectic and focussed. McRaney's initial chapters are just as much about why people hold different opinions at all, and how deep those differences are - which is almost as fascinating as science of persuasion itself.

In terms of specifically talking about Changing Minds the arguments contained in this book are sensitive open minded and intriguing. While the general consensus of the book is pro-science and left leaning I would say that the intent is to create useful dialogue overall and the final chapter which includes case-studies about discussing God felt really very humane and respectful. Even the final scenario - which depicted the author's debate with a famous flat-earther is not portrayed as an embarrassing gotcha! own! type scenario but rather an example of keeping an open mind and treating people with value.

Whether you're reading to get into politics, therapy, speaking with your family members, or indeed blogging, I feel this is vital reading. Really liked this book.
Profile Image for Chris Boutté.
Author 8 books163 followers
March 12, 2022
David McRaney did it once again, and I’d be shocked if this wasn’t one of the top books of 2022. David was kind enough to send me an early copy of the book, and I was obsessed with it. I read a ton of books about how minds change, why people get stuck in their beliefs and the thinking errors that lead people to resist new information. With that said, this book was completely unique on so many different levels. Not only did David have a ton of great interviews with people I’d never heard of before like street epistemologists, but he also discussed a bunch of psychological studies I was unfamiliar with. Aside from diving into the psychology of how we change minds, he also had a really in-depth chapter on neuroscience and why we see thinks differently than others, and how some of this research may help decrease polarization.

I don’t want to spoil any of the details of this book, but if you want to learn how to have better conversations and the proven methods for talking with difficult people, you need this book as soon as it launches.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
319 reviews3 followers
December 28, 2022
Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable, pragmatic, and informative listen. I thought the points were well-made and well-supported. And, this is in line with learnings gleaned from Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind."

Key learnings:

The only way to change a mind is through the heart; facts don't do it, and even once a mind is changed only rarely will a person realize that they didn't always think that way.

We are more likely to be open to changing our minds if we don't feel under threat or judged. One must be willing to say that they are wrong, and that becomes harder to do when their reputation, livelihood, or place in the community is at stake.

Debates are dangerous — it is a zero-sum game. Instead of asking who is right, “we should ask ourselves why we see things differently. This creates a collaborative environment.” Then, both sides work together to find out where their differences come from. Collaboration begets trust.
Profile Image for Ruth Terry.
24 reviews
January 16, 2023
Read this book for book club and really enjoyed it. The science got a little dense for me at times, and I think the book would've benefitted from the inclusion more content and social science experiments related to women, other countries, non-western religions, etc. Though, admittedly, I'm not sure that research even exists. In our Istanbul-based feminist book club, we kept wondering, does this hold true for women? Does this group behavior follow the same trajectory in collective cultures? That being said, the book gets 5 stars from me for demystifying the logic of conspiracy theorists and inspiring me to be more humble, empathetic, and listen-y to people with beliefs, opinions, and attitudes I don't really understand.
Profile Image for Michel.
16 reviews
October 25, 2022
Aanrader! Hoe komt het dat de ene persoon tot een andere conclusie komt op basis van dezelfde feiten? Hoe kan het dat het lijkt alsof je nooit iemand kunt overtuigen met feiten? En hoe kan het dat het sommigen toch lukt om bijvoorbeeld uit een sekte te stappen ondanks dat we allemaal confirmation bias hebben?

De auteur praat met allemaal experts die verschillende methodes hebben ontwikkeld om het gesprek aan te gaan met anders denkenden. Deep canvassing, street epistemology, flat earthers, 9/11 deniers, maar ook "the dress that broke the internet" komen voorbij.

Echt interessant, ik ga nog eens al mijn notities doorlezen.
Profile Image for Dan Connors.
331 reviews44 followers
September 19, 2022
“I feel I change my mind all the time. And I sort of feel that's your responsibility as a person, as a human being – to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don't contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you're not thinking.”

― Malcolm Gladwell

“Understanding how your own mind operates frees you to become the person you truly are.

Your mind wants to keep you safe... but only according to the rules it has learned.

True freedom comes when you learn to choose to change your beliefs rather than running on default.”

― Monty Ritchings

Why do people cling to beliefs when all around them are signs that things are broken? Why all of a sudden are things like cigarette smoking bad while homosexuality isn't so bad? Sometimes it seems like we are stuck in a rut of entrenched belief structures, but once in a while huge changes in attitudes can come out of the blue. How do even the most stubbornly certain people eventually change their minds, and is there anything the rest of us can do to bring them around?

These are some of the questions looked at in a fascinating new book, How Minds Change, by David McRaney. Mr. McRaney is a science journalist and author of a best-seller and blog titled You Are Not So Smart. He produces a podcast that interviews scientists about the psychology of reasoning, decision-making, and judgment. The topic of how we think and decide is one of my favorites, and this book doesn't disappoint as it looks at why some people change and others don't.

McRaney tells the story of several people who left cult-like belief systems, including some members of the gay-hating Westboro church and a 9/11 truther who was ostracized by his community of questioners when he started to agree that the scientists were right about how the twin towers fell. When these people finally came around, they were cut off from their communities, which is one reason people don't like to change their mind too much- the threat of ostracism is a life or death threat from the days of early mankind. We need each other so much that we're willing to put up with absurd or authoritarian leadership rather than rock the boat and risk being kicked out. It reminded me of the Republican congressman from Buffalo who changed his mind on gun control after the horrific mass shooting there, only to be shunned by members of his own party and forced to drop out of his re-election bid.

We have a lot of good reasons for sticking with our guns, even in the face of conflicting information. Our cognitive biases serve us well in that regard. Confirmation bias helps us only look at information that agrees with our current assumptions, while the backfire effect makes us even more certain of our positions when presented with conflicting information. And naive realism makes us believe that those who disagree with us are only lacking the facts that we have, and if we show them our facts they should immediately change their opinion.

McRaney discusses the example of "The Dress", a photograph that broke the internet. Because of the odd lighting of the photograph, some people saw it as gold and white, while others saw it as blue and black (which was the actual color). Many arguments came about because of honest perceptual differences in that picture, and it's a fascinating story. The lesson of "The Dress" is that our brains hate uncertainty, and when we see things that are unclear or ambiguous, as that poor quality photograph portrayed, we make things up based on past experiences and current assumptions. Some saw that photo and saw one thing- others saw it very differently. From their own viewpoints, neither side was completely wrong, but obviously our brain is imperfect in the perceptions and models that it comes up with.

Our brains construct models of reality based on our previous experiences. In that regard, there is no "reality" besides the millions of models inside of our brains. When we see things that conflict with our models, they cause a disequilibrium and force us to do one of three things. We can assimilate that new information into our models if it isn't too threatening, we can accommodate that new information by revising our models, or we can reject the new information by discounting its source. In these days of information overload, we often choose the third option to save time and energy, because conflicting and disturbing things are hitting on us every day. Sometimes the simplest models are the strongest, but rarely are they the best. We live in a complex and interconnected world, and building models that take all of that into account is a long, demanding, and constant process.

McRaney devotes and entire chapter to Westboro Baptist Church and its hateful protests of funerals with their anti-gay messages. I found it fascinating that the founder Fred Phelps, whose children now run the church, may have been excommunicated towards the end of his life because he had a revelation that gay people weren't so bad after all. The paradigm shift on LGBT Americans was so swift and overwhelming that it took a lot of people by surprise, and the two politicians in the middle of it, Barack Obama and George W Bush both did surprising 180's on the subject in the course of a few years.

Humans are social beings, and our mental paradigms are more and more controlled by our tribal allegiances. The problem with tribal allegiances is that they punish the people outside of the tribe, denoting a "them" category upon which distrust, hate, and conspiracy theories can be dumped. The only way around this tribalism, which reinforces itself with threats of ostracism, is by emphasizing multiple levels of tribes and not putting all of your eggs in one basket. Thus a Trump supporter could also be considered a Yankees fan, a father, a union member, a Grateful Dead fan, or one of many other significant tribes that balance out his allegiances. This balancing act and willingness to explore other groups is what saved several of the main subjects of this book- they began relationships outside of their tribe and had the perspective to be able to see their old tribe in a new light.

McRaney highlights several techniques that are showing promise in changing minds- specifically from cult-like groups stuck in airtight conspiracy theories to more accepting groups. These include.

- Motivational Interviewing. This has worked wonders in overcoming vaccine skeptics and is popular with counselors dealing with a lot of bad habits. It uses compassionate dialogue to help people get to the root of their motivations and make positive behavior changes.

- Deep Canvassing. This is a fairly new technique that has been used door to door in campaigns to help people understand why they feel the way they do and become open to other experiences. The canvasser, rather than ask what you believe, asks how do you feel about this topic and why do you feel this way, hoping to get them to go back to significant experiences and stories that molded their beliefs. By asking open-ended questions, building rapport, and sharing their own stories around a topic, this technique has been proven to make lasting change in beliefs, specifically around LGBT attitudes, which is where it was first attempted.

- Street epistemology. This is not necessarily an attempt to change a mind to a desired result, but more an attempt to strengthen thought by inviting participants to look at a deeply held belief and uncover the reasoning behind it. Epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge, and this promising technique invites participants to look at what they think they know a bit more deeply through honest, respectful conversations that establish rapport and ask people to dive deep and justify where their beliefs came from. There are videos of this technique on You Tube that show the process in depth.

Want to change minds? Here's what doesn't work:

-Graphs, charts and numbers

-Yelling and arguing

-Threats to identity

-Talking down to people


-Appeals to external authorities, higher powers, or just recognize the facts

Here's what does work: (Warning, you may end up changing your own mind)

- Rapport, empathy, and friendship plus person to person contact

- Persistence

- Open-ended questions

- Personal stories that show where you're coming from

- Respectful introspection

- Transparency and a genuine desire to build understanding

We all like to think that we're rational, but we're more emotional that we'd like to believe. We'd like to think that we know things, but in reality we're ignorant of the many, many things that we don't know, including why one picture of a dress can confuse us so much. Society has seen some big swings in beliefs regarding cigarettes, LGBT issues, religion, race and gender issues, and climate change, but somehow we still remain stalemated on stubborn blocks that divide and polarize us. In order to make progress, techniques like the ones described in this book will be essential if we're ever to arrive at a national consensus on important things and avoid a descent into chaos or authoritarianism.

This is an important look at a big topic. I also recommend the author's other two books, You are Not So Smart and You are Now Less Dumb, both of which look at how we process our beliefs and attitudes.
Profile Image for Nadine.
1,721 reviews44 followers
October 8, 2022
I’m a huge fan of his podcast and the book certainly didn’t disappoint. Timely and thoughtful on how to have meaningful conversations seeking understanding of the viewpoints of others & thereby having a dialogue that may find common ground.
Profile Image for Andrew Wolgemuth.
696 reviews72 followers
June 14, 2023
A fascinating secular humanist exploration and explanation of how and why we change our minds. McRaney covers a lot of ground effectively and logically, and - as he does so - makes a lot of complex things accessible and interesting.
Profile Image for Robert Starr.
182 reviews6 followers
January 7, 2023
This is a weird one to recommend. On one hand, there's some good information in here (I think), but on the other, my baloney alarm was going off left and right.

There's an idea that is very persuasive to liberal-minded people that if we just take the time to explain our positions to people, they'll be won over. Sure, there's some bad information out there, but once we present people with the correct information, they'll realize how wrong they were. We have a similar idea with regards to empathy: if people would only realize that their decisions are hurting people, they'll come over to our side.

This book argues with the former, but it puts an awful lot of emphasis on the latter and I'm not convinced. Similarly, many centrist-liberals seem to think that "being nice" is the way to win people over, which this book pretty much doubles down on.

And that I *really* don't buy.

It's hard to think of a person who comes across as nicer than Al Gore. He's so nice as to be downright boring. For more than 20 years now, he's gently told the world about the serious threat that global warming poses to the planet. And I don't think he's managed to convert many global warming denialists.

Meanwhile, centrists love to point to the more "radical" factions and blame them for pushing people away. Golly, if only those trans people wouldn't so aggressively ::checks notes:: ask people to refer to them with the correct pronouns, maybe we could have won the 2016 election! Those pesky feminists were SOOO ridiculous when they tried to push their agenda that abortion was an essential right. Etc. Etc.

On an individual level, many things lead to people changing their minds. Some people insist that telling people when they're being stupid never works, but I can't think of a single time where I haven't changed my mind on an important issue without somebody telling me how stupid I was being.

Now, granted, it's usually been somebody I respect (the book points out the importance of this) and there's also the idea of community that's very important (part of people moving to the correct side means that we need to accept their apology for being wrong initially — though I don't think this is as much of an issue as the "cancel culture" panic seems to think it is).

Perhaps I'm an outlier. I'm neurodivergent in more ways than one, so maybe my brain just doesn't work the same way as everyone else's. But, in my opinion, it would be really nice if Democrats could actually believe in something. Bernie Sanders (not my first choice for president) ran in 2016 and 2020 on a platform with no clear policies other than "billionaires have too much power." But he believed in something and managed to do quite well. If it weren't for the centrist pushback, perhaps he could have done equally well in the general election. Or maybe they were right and he was unelectable. I don't know.

I do know that, at least lately, Republicans haven't been afraid to stand for something, even if it was ridiculous and racist, and it only seems to ignite their voting base.

We're liberals. We're supposed to be the radical ones. For the most part, we have the facts on our side. We should be leaning into that instead of holding back and forcing our candidates to abide by arbitrary rules of decorum that the other side threw out decades ago.

Anyway, the book is fine and I appreciated it giving me the opportunity to think about these things, though I don't agree with many of the conclusions it reached. And, if it was a better book about convincing people to change their opinions, it would have been able to change mine.
Profile Image for Chicken.
205 reviews
May 25, 2023
"Every era, every culture, believed it knew the truth, until it realized it didn't; then when the truth changed, the culture changed with it. ... The key to changing a nation, or a planet, is persistence." -- McRaney (pgs 286-288)

McRaney's primary argument: Almost nobody makes decisions alone and almost none of those decisions are based on pure reason.

McRaney's primary goal: To question why LGBTQ persons and communities still feel marginalized, and to progress their status as fully equal.

My big takeaway from McRaney: Humility, Socratic questioning, metacognition, and true listening are the best courses to discover one's own and others' deeply held beliefs and values.

HOW MINDS CHANGE is an outstanding volume of pop psychology. McRaney contends far more for helping people better see and understand WHY they believe than he does questioning or hoping to change WHAT people believe. He argues that the WHAT is far less important than the WHY. And if someone believes a harmful WHAT, we should begin by questioning and helping them explore (expose) the WHY of that belief - enter humility, Socratic questioning, metacognition, and true listening.

My critiques are minor in comparison to my praise: McRaney's case studies stack superfluously; he views "truth" as malleable; he did not include Jonathan Haidt anywhere in this discussion. Otherwise, I plan to make handouts for my rhetoric classes based on ideas from McRaney's "Disequilibrium" and "Street Epistemology" chapters. This is a solid, accessible read for anyone interested in engaging conversations beneath a surface level.
427 reviews
July 25, 2023
I read this for a class. I was interested in studying the newest ways of persuading people. The lessons on argumentation and rhetoric that I learned seemingly don't apply in a post truth world. In our polarized nation, how do we talk to each other, much less open our minds to other ideas? This was a solid book-- clearly written, with good examples. It talks about the way minds change--even minds that are seemingly immune to change. For months, I've been interacting with friends who believe that the election was stolen, that there is a woke conspiracy and a trans conspiracy, that climate change is overblown, and that progressive ideas are evil attempts to create a marxist- anti religious society. Sometimes talking to them and hearing their ideas is actually painful. Yet, I still want to understand. I don't want to end friendships. I want to be able to discuss ideas again. This book helps explain how. In this book, we look at the history of minds being changed, including value shifts about dignity, class, and equality that swept entire countries. We look at how the brain fills in gaps in knowledge to confirm and strengthen opinions, and how there is actually a physiological and psychological basis for changing or not changing deeply held opinions--- and finally, we talked about trust, and how the establishing of trust and fully understanding the ideas of others is critical towards helping people change their mind. Who owns the truth? What is the truth? Does truth exist? This book can help you find out. There are methods of talking to people who believe in conspiracy theories here. A helpful book.
36 reviews7 followers
October 9, 2022
How Minds Change
David McRaney

A consistent theme to many of the books that I have read over the past year, has been in calling out the extent to which the world has grown polarised in thought, aided by our primal tendency to seek tribal affiliations, amplified by the echo chambers that social media have helped create. It is most visible in the heated conversations that have become the staple of social interactions these days, and vitriolic exchanges over opinion platforms, with views clearly drawn along political or religious lines. This rip in the social fabric is something that we have now come to see as a part of the new normal. David Mcraney, the journalist turned author of books ‘You Are Not So Smart’ and ‘You Are Now Less Dumb’ has in fact written on these topics in the past, to his own admission, more in calling out the inevitability and advising acceptance of this human condition. He was a pessimist, as many of us undoubtedly are, on the pointlessness of trying to change people’s minds, till he saw the change happen in public opinion on topics that were hugely polarising, like same-sex marriages, smoking in public places etc. in a short period of time. He was sufficiently interested in this phenomenon of our ability to get to the punctuated equilibrium through all the pulls and push of arguments, enough to devote the next year plus in studying it, culminating in his writing this book. My route to this book was much less complex in comparison; it was a part of more than a few reading lists on change management, came up in a couple of conversations and seemed to finally present a positive view on this increasingly depressing topic of the polarising of the society.

McRaney, in ‘How Minds Change’ takes us through individual journeys of this mental transformation, coordinated efforts at influencing this change, the ethical questions around persuasion vs coercion and gives us a way of catalysing this change through a clear process led by dialogue and genuine conversation. He starts with the story of a truther, Charlie Vietch, who was a part of a BBC reality show, the Conspiracy Road Trip and who believed that the official narrative of what happened on 9/11 was a lie. The show took conspiracy theorists on a fact trip to show them otherwise, to see if they would change their mind, and had no success till Vietch, a prominent thought leader in the community actually did. McRaney takes us through Vietch’s journey and his final epiphany which paradoxically led him to be ostracised from the community. The book talks of the neurological studies on the subject, where MRI machines showed that the mental response of people to arguments counter to their beliefs was similar to physical threats. This comes down to the fundamental human tendency to find comfort in groups – valuing belonging over factual correctness. However, the tendency of the participants was to react more rationally to less emotional issues – for instance they were less fussed about changing their minds say about ‘who invented the light bulb’ than about political or religious beliefs. Phasing the emotionally charged viewpoint through this staging area was an easier path to changing minds, something that helped Vietch for instance.

The book talks of ‘deep canvasing’ as a method of precipitating this change of mind. This entails an open and honest conversation with a person with a long held strong opinion where judgement is carefully reserved. These conversations have been shown to have the consistent ability to convert about 10% of the audience, a statistically relevant number in a political debate. This method however requires rigorous training to be effective. There are however other methods that are been proven to be effective in this process of changing minds, and the one McRaney talks extensively about is of ‘Street Epistemology’ which has a clear nine step process starting from establishing rapport with the person to clarifying the terms, helping them explore the factors that influence their reasoning to leaving the final phase of their changing their mind to be their prerogative. The point is less of trying to convince them on your point of view and more about guiding them through their own reasoning, which process is seen to be remarkably effective in changing minds.

‘How Minds Change’ is a positive read with a very important lesson – that debate and facts are the least effective way to win an argument. It is empathy and an open conversation, that surprisingly have the best chance of reaching the individual on the other side. It is respecting them enough to let them change their mind, rather than forcing it through rhetoric that is the most effective path to shift perspectives. There are some big lessons there for us individually and as a society. I have, as I am sure many others, been bewildered, that watertight, fact laced arguments have had very little impact in discourse. Often, they have had the reverse impact of cementing others to their point of view. The book gives us an alternative path of examining ourselves and our beliefs with candour and approaching the world with humility to work with the other person and use openness as the path to effecting change. It is a profound point that the strength of the debate could be the primary deterrent to transform a viewpoint. We would do well to remember this in our personal and professional lives. The positive point that the book made was also that however tough the opposing factions look today, however splintered our society, it has the ability to use time and gradual change, to reach the ‘punctuated equilibrium’ that biology talks about. For all of us struggling to understand the increasing intolerance, this is a great message of hope. I would recommend the book for just these two core messages. This is not the most profound book you will read but it is a useful and necessary one. It is well written, presented with facts and anecdotes in addition to giving us a process of managing change that should be well worth your investing time in reading it. Happy reading.
Profile Image for Guus Colbers.
12 reviews
September 30, 2022
Ik heb meer genoten van dit boek dan ik vooraf had verwacht. De titel suggereert een beetje naar het leren om iemands mening te kunnen veranderen, terwijl het boek veel meer insteekt op hoe iemand zijn mening tot stand komt. Zeker in de hedendaagse tijd waarin extreem uiterste meningen aan de orde van de dag zijn, is het een verfrissend boek om te lezen.
Het is duidelijk dat McRaney zijn huiswerk heeft gedaan en veel tijd heeft besteed aan het interviewen van mensen. Zijn schrijfstijl is goed te volgen en daardoor toegankelijk voor een breed publiek. Het boek is een mooie eyeopener om jezelf aan te leren om vaker in dialoog te gaan in plaats van de discussie op te zoeken. Ik beoordeel het boek met 4 sterren daar het, mijns inziens, soms té uitgebreid was en meer to-the-point geschreven had mogen zijn, desondanks een sterk verhaal.
Profile Image for Lara.
37 reviews2 followers
January 3, 2023
I loved this book, it's his third book and I think the depth of his experience with the subjects really comes across. This is not just a "random study says" pop science book, it's a mature distillation from someone who has spent years with the work. I enjoyed the audiobook format because I first came to his work through his podcast.
1 review1 follower
June 26, 2022
When it comes to debate and arguing, it would appear most of use are using a mallet to drive a screw into a piece of hardwood. And then when it doesn't work, we proclaim that it cannot be done — never knowing we were using the wrong tool.

This book gives us the screwdriver. And I daresay it's an electric screwdriver with a full battery.

At a time in which our societies are tearing at the seams with deadlocked, polarized, tribalized and increasingly angry adversaries, it provides hope. Because the methods in this book don't utilize the rhetorical tricks that exploit our cognitive biases (such as those detailed in this author's previous books) — but on the radically counter-intuitive method of "having a compassionate discussion" rather than the "attacks and facts" bloodsport so common across talk shows and social media. Mind you, the "discussion" it prescribes is a very deliberately-structured implementation of the Socratic Method, field-tested and refined by multiple organizations working independently from one-another.

The manner in which these methods are presented to the reader, bolstered with an array of wonky, in-the-weeds psychological concepts reads as a sort of "grand unification theory" of attitude change. And while time will tell how durable 2022's social science will remain in the coming years and decades, this volume is as compelling as anything else I've read on the subject.

But though it is packed with social science research, that academic content is mercifully complemented with an accessible plain-spoken narrative that keeps it engaging for the general audience, with each chapter organically leading to the next as well as any prose fiction.

Forgive the hyperbole, but in a time in which political divisiveness is careening in an increasingly incendiary direction, this book is essential reading for us all.
Profile Image for Alexandru.
6 reviews
September 11, 2022
Great book, a bit light.
This is a great introduction into how minds change. I think it may be impossible to be anything else due to the extensive literature cited and needed to go into more detail. It establishes a great foundation for studying the techniques described into further detail
Profile Image for Janelle.
74 reviews
January 30, 2023
(Audiobook) My mind is, well, changed when it comes to changing minds. I especially appreciate the story of the author having the mind changing conversation with a person who believes in God but stopping when he realized the intention was just to display the technique and he didn’t want to arbitrarily challenge someone’s hard-won faith. It’s interesting that our experiences and those were immersed with tell us what to think, but also so important to check our motivations for why we need someone’s mind to change- is it for our personal gain, or that humanity might advance in kindness and understanding? A powerful book.
Profile Image for Adam Werley.
105 reviews12 followers
February 7, 2023
This is one to come back to, over and over. Some repeat material from the podcast, but the depth and synthesis here are great, and there are theories, examples, and a pragmatic approach to give a try. I think I'll also be spending some time on street epistemology YouTube after this read.
Profile Image for Simon MacDonald.
178 reviews7 followers
February 27, 2023
I really enjoyed this book and would give it 4.5 out of 5 stars while reserving the right to re-evaluate my rating once I get a chance to read this book for a second time. This could end up on my list of 5 star bangers.
Profile Image for Russ.
323 reviews
May 20, 2023
Highly recommend to humans, especially people who have difficulty wrapping their heads around how people can think so differently from themselves. Deep canvassing, The Dress, Westboro, street epistemology, this book is rad.
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