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What’s the evidence on using rational argument to change people’s minds?

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Is it true that “you can’t tell anybody anything”? From pub arguments to ideology-driven party political disputes it can sometimes seem like people have their minds all made up, that there’s no point trying to persuade anybody of anything. Popular psychology books reinforce the idea that we’re emotional, irrational creatures (Dan Ariely “Predictably irrational”, David McRaney “You Are Not So Smart”). This piece will be 3000 words on the evidence from psychological science about persuasion by rational argument.

I am a university researcher in Psychology, with a sideline in writing for a general audience. In my best-selling book Mind Hacks, in my columns for the BBC and The Conversation, I have specialised in showing the details of how experiments with people actually work. By tracing the path from actual behaviour to theories we can ground our understanding in something more reliable than headlines which tell us we’re irrational.

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