Ep 201: How Minds Change

Episode Summary

David McRaney, author of How Minds Change, joins us to explain why it’s so hard to change a teens’ mind! We also talk about the psychology behind persuasion and the power of peer pressure in the teen social world.

Show NotesParenting ScriptsInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

If you’ve ever tried to change your teen’s mind, you know that it’s nearly impossible! No matter how much you try to persuade them to take harder classes, hang out with different friends or pick more lucrative extracurriculars…they tend to stick stubbornly to their own choices. It can start to feel like you’re going crazy, spending hours of your life begging teens to change their minds–especially when it’s over something serious like drug use or toxic relationships.

This disconnect applies not only in our homes, but our society at large. Our world is more divided than ever, and it seems like there’s no way to have productive conversations about what really matters. Online forums and social media have contributed immensely to this polarization, by allowing us to find people who agree with us wholeheartedly, never challenging our opinions or encouraging us to think critically. In some cases, this can lead people down rabbit holes into conspiracy theories or even cults–and it’s not easy to change their minds and bring them back!

So how can we start up  productive discourse and change people’s minds for the better? We’re talking to David McRaney  to find out. David is a science journalist and author of the popular blog, You Are Not So Smart, which ran for years before becoming a successful podcast and bestselling book. Today,  he’s here to talk about his latest book, How Minds Change: The Science of Belief, Opinion and Persuasion,  to help us understand the fascinating psychological process of forming and changing  opinions.

In our interview, we’re discussing why it’s so incredibly difficult to change our teens’ minds about anything! Plus, David explains why we need to consider teens’ perspectives before making decisions, and breaks down the importance of peer groups in the persuasion process.

The Importance of Intention

You’ve asked your teen a hundred times to stop eating junk food, stop vaping, start going to SAT prep. You’ve even laid out all the facts to show them why they should listen to you…but they just don’t seem to care! Why is it so difficult to get anyone, especially teens, to change their viewpoint or lifestyle? David explains that providing facts and logic to try and sway someone doesn’t usually work. Teens are bound to cherry pick the information they want to hear, and conveniently ignore any facts that might disprove their opinion. 

So how can we change teens’ minds? David suggests that we start by revealing our intentions. Oftentimes, we don’t realize that we actually have the same goals as teens–and that we could be working with teens instead of fighting against them. 

For example, say you want your teen to stick to a strict curfew of 10:00 pm….but they haven’t been home before midnight in weeks. Although your main concern is keeping them safe, your teen might interpret this curfew  as an attempt to control them and reject it outright. As David explains in the episode, people tend to resist when they feel their agency is being taken away–especially teenagers!

The result? You continue to nag, and your teen continues to break curfew. If you want to stop the cycle, David recommends communicating your safety concerns to your teen, and help them understand that you just want them home in one piece. Most likely, they want to stay safe as well! Now the two of you have a goal you can work towards together–their safety. They might even agree to a compromise that makes the both of you happy, like texting you every hour or only going out late with certain friends.

Even if you’re being honest about your intentions, however, kids can be pretty stubborn. But how did they get that way? In our interview, David and I are discussing the psychology of forming opinions…and refusing to budge from them!

How Humans Handle the Ambiguous

When we’re confronted with  confusing information, our brains tend to work out some kind of solution or interpretation for the information we’ve just received–a process called disambiguation, as David explains. This process depends highly on our former life experiences, our access to information and our environment. This means that everyone disambiguates differently. When we see a new, trendy clothing style we aren’t used to, our brain might turn it from an ambiguous piece of clothing to something we dislike. Our teens, however, being from a different generation, might disambiguate these clothes in an opposite way..meaning you might be seeing them suddenly wearing something you think is strange or even ugly!

These variations in disambiguation often cause serious conflict in society. People from different backgrounds form remarkably different interpretations of events and issues, and fail to understand how anyone could possibly disagree with their particular viewpoint. David explains that we’re so hyper aware of our own disambiguations that we often can’t see the validity of anyone else’s. Then, especially with the help of the internet, we find others who agree with us until we’ve formed a group of people who reinforce our opinion and rarely encourage us to question it.

This stubborn divide in perspective is common among parents and teens, says David, and can be one of the reasons why teens and parents struggle to resolve conflict. Teens often fail to understand parents’ perspectives, but parents can also be out of touch with what teens feel and believe. We might try over and over again to get teens to study harder when all they want to do is hang out with their friends, forgetting that we were once rebellious teens ourselves. During those years, socializing often feels like life or death…and parents might benefit from remembering that feeling and interpreting situations from their teens’ mindset as best they can, says David.

Social pressures are incredibly significant for teens, and can be a big part of their opinion forming process. In the episode, David breaks down just how influential peer groups are in decision making.

The Power of Peer Influence

We all know that teens can be pretty susceptible to peer influence, but Dave explains just how powerful peers are in our interview. For humans, reputation is incredibly valuable, even more so then we may realize. He explains that humans actually fear “social death” (or being rejected by peers) even more than physical death. When confronted with the need to form an opinion on something, human beings will most reliably choose a conforming  viewpoint that keeps them from being ostracized from the group.

David explains that this is often what keeps people stuck in cults or radical groups. Because members of these groups are encouraged to cut off friends and family who don’t agree with the organization, they no longer have a safe social space where they can express disagreement. Re-establishing that connection to others with different perspectives is typically the only way out of these groups.  Although your teen likely isn’t in a cult, this logic still applies! Peer pressure can feel incredibly real when your teens just want to fit in.

In our interview, David advises parents to understand just how strong this need for peer acceptance is. If we attempt to convince our kids to ignore their friends and listen to us instead…it’s not likely to work. Because of this evolutionary need to stick with the pack, they’ll probably  listen to their friends and simply tune your opinion out. Instead, David encourages parents to prompt teens to think critically about their group of friends and decide for themselves if this is really the pack they want to roll with. This helps teens re-evaluate their own values and have agency over their own social life.

In the Episode….

This episode is jam-packed with fascinating  facts about forming opinions and changing minds! On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about…

  • What you should know about “belief change blindness”
  • How evolution shapes our decision making
  • Why it’s important to reconsider our values
  • How anyone can be more persuasive

If you want to find more of David’s work, you can find him at davidmcraney.com, on Twitter @davidmcraney, and on his podcast, You Are Not So Smart. Thanks for listening! Don’t forget to share and subscribe and we’ll see you next week.

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Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

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1. If you’re afraid your teen is listening to the wrong people: (1 of 2)

“I love you, and I worry that there are people who are manipulating you, is what it comes down to. I don’t want you to trust those people.”

-David McRaney

2. If you’re afraid your teen is listening to the wrong people: (2 of 2)

(Members Only)

3. Suggest checking sources before believing them:

(Members Only)

4. When your teen is struggling to convince a friend of something:

(Members Only)

5. If you’re entering into a heated topic of conversation, try:

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Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: So, talk to me a little about where this came from. I mean, this is not something that you just decided you were interested in yesterday. You’ve been fascinated by the topic of how minds change for quite some time now. where did that interest come from?

David: Well, I think it came from, I’ve had this mild podcast for a long time and I written a couple books about this domain, but always from the perspective of motivated reasoning. I’ve always been fascinated with how people can come up with rationalizations and justifications for whatever they already think, feel, and believe. And if they’re tasked with changing their minds in some way, there’s always a way out of it by more rationalizations and justifications. But I had gotten to a point where people were asking me, I was doing lectures and stuff, and people would ask me about their conspiratorial beliefs of their family members, or something that would have gotten to their politics in some way. And they were like, “How do I change their mind about that?” And I was giving this advice that I now consider terrible, which was, I was like, “Well, you can’t. They’re motivated reasoners. I can describe it for you, but I can’t prescribe anything for you.”

David: And I just got exhausted with that. I didn’t like the way it felt. At some point, it felt like I was locking my keys in my car. And at the same time, when this was starting to form as an idea, the attitudes, norms, and then eventually the laws concerning same sex marriage in the United States changed very rapidly. And so, it wasn’t quite overnight. It took a while, but the main part of the change did take place over about a decade, and then the majority opinion flipped in just a couple years from 60 something plus percent of people being against same sex marriage, to 60 plus percent of people being for it.

David: That main flip took place over the course of about three years. And I just had this strange thought experiment of, I was involved in so many arguments like everyone else every day with people on wedge issues, and I thought, what if you took all the people who are now in favor of this, put them in a time machine, about 10 years, and had them meet themselves.

Andy: Yeah.

David: Would they argue with themselves? Because they would see things differently. And something happened between those two places, and I was like, what was it that happened in their brains? What is it that happens in a human brain when we change our minds?

Andy: Argument.

David: I thought if I could understand that, then maybe there could be an answer to this other question. And that’s how this whole thing got started.

Andy: I think that it’s so fascinating to think about how we get so entrenched in our ways of thinking about things, and I think that this shows up so much in families. And you talked at one point about conspiracy theory?

David: Yeah. My dad has continuously followed into a couple different conspiracy theories. He’s always been, I grew up with a Vietnam Vet father who does not trust the government. And sometimes he’s quite reasonable, and sometimes he’s a little over the line in that prepper world of what are they up to? And as a science journalist who’s oftentimes spending time with people who are very cutting edge of this kind of thing, every once in a while there’d be a disagreement and I was shocked at how quickly we’d move into anger, and how quickly we’d move into, “Maybe we shouldn’t have this conversation.” And my good friend Misha Gloveman, who is an negotiation and conflict resolution expert. He actually facilitates real Sean diplomacy type things. I told him, I was like, “I don’t know what to do here.”

David: And he told me that old parable about the orange, which is, there are these two girls. There’s one orange and the two girls want it. This, either I get it or you get it. And then the father asks, “Why do you want the orange?” And one girl says, “I want to make orange juice.” And the other girl says, “I want to make a cake and I need the zest.” So, it turns out they both can have the orange, had they just revealed why they wanted the orange. And he said, that’s a framing for a lot of our discussions, or in this win, lose frame, debate frame. Let’s get behind lectern and speak our ideas in front of an audience and see who wins frame, who loses frame. And he said, “So, the first thing you can do is ask yourself why. Why do you want to change their mind?”

David: And you might discover that what you want and what he wants are the same, or you might have the same values, and you might consider the same problems, problems. But more than that, you’ll also discover why you care so much about this, and maybe your intentions to change your mind are something they need to hear. And I did that. I was like, “Okay. Why do I want to change your mind?” “Because you believe things I don’t believe.” “Why do I care about that?” “Because I’m worried about this, this, and this.” And you keep asking why until you get down to something going on between dopamine and acetylcholine or something. But hopefully before you get there, you get to what I got to, which was, “I love you, and I worried that there are people who are manipulating you, is what it comes down to. I don’t want you to trust those people.”

David: And when I shared that, when I said, “We see this differently, but the truth matter is I love you very much, and I just worry that you’re being misled and I don’t want you to be misled.” Then we just had a different discussion altogether. We went from being facing off to being shoulder to shoulder. We were both like, “Well, how could you determine somebody is trustworthy on the internet?” And that was a completely different discussion that I didn’t show up to have, but it turns out that was the better discussion to have. And that is what moved him more than anything else I planned, because it avoided something that I now understand in psychology is called reactance. And that’s just this feeling that the other person wants you to do something. And that want could be anything.

David: They could want you to pick up a pencil. They could want you to take up the garbage, or they could want you to change how you see the world. And it really doesn’t matter what they want. It’s that they want something. And they’re asking you to do it on their demand. And you can imagine with my father being this anti-establishment Vietnam Vet person, that react reacts very poorly to feeling like somebody’s trying to do something like that, it feels like his agency, his freedoms being taken away in some way. So, that is a clever way to avoid that reactive frame. And that’s something I advocate for throughout the book is, in the very beginning, you’ve got to get out of that frame or else you just wouldn’t even be able to have the conversation that you want to have.

Andy: Yeah. And this changes the whole context of the conversation. Obviously, starting from a place of, “Hey, I care about you,” and disclosing. I just love that idea of disclosing why you’re trying to change the person’s mind. And it’s like, you have to get clear on that and honest with yourself about that first, which is all helpful. You use this phrase throughout the book that I like, which is that you can’t just copy paste your own reasoning, your own thought process into someone else’s head and expect them to follow it and accept it as their own.

Andy: You have to talk about their thought process, and how they develop these beliefs, and why they believe this and where that came from. And that’s how you can start to open them up. And I just think starting a conversation off on the right foot is so important to just set the tone that this isn’t going to be me trying to take my way of thinking about it and my perspective, and just force feed it into you. But this is a conversation where I really just care about you, and I want to just talk about this and hear your perspective.

David: Yeah. And it’s so easy to miss out, or to even to ignore that you had a reasoning process. That’s how you arrived at your conclusion. Arrival suggests journey. Arrival suggests there’s been a process. And a conclusion suggests it has concluded. So, these beliefs, and attitudes, and values that we hold, we come in contact with somebody else who has different ones, it feels like we should just be able to do battle, take the facts, put them out into a little arena and have them fight the other person’s facts. And let the best facts win.

Andy: Yeah. Because it’s obvious, because they’re wrong.

David: Yeah. It seems so clear. If the facts are on my side, or I have the moral high ground, or whatever it is you feel, but you got there somehow. There’s a reasoning process. And reasoning in psychology means coming up with reasons for what you think, feel, and believe, for justifications, and rationalizations, and explanations. In addition to that, reasons, in the sense that they would be reasonable, plausible to other people who share your values, who are in your in group and so on, and so they seem very natural to us. They seem like that anybody who saw the facts would think the things that I think the other person has had different experiences. They may have somewhat different values than you. They may have just seen a propensity of evidence that ha that you haven’t, but also had they haven’t seen the evidence you have, and so on.

David: There’s all sorts of things that lead up to them having the position they have, and you can’t expect them, you can hand the evidence to them and say, “This should just change your mind. I’m going to send them this link or this YouTube video, and they’re going to be like, “This is going to change your mind. All they have to do is watch this one thing.” But they’re going to interpret it using the same process they’ve used to cherry pick the evidence they’ve already are using to back up their position.

Andy: Right.

David: So, just like if they did the same thing to you. I mean, they send you a YouTube video. You’re going to go, “Well.” I can understand why this doesn’t feel right at its first, because it seems to suggest you’re saying that there’s a middle ground between the two places or that there, especially there are some issues where it feels like I totally do not agree with their position. And I do not wish to entertain it.

David: I understand that there’s a hesitation there. But I’m not suggesting you ever give up your position in that way or are not feel as strongly as you feel about it. It’s just important that if you hope to have that person see things more like you see it, or entertain the way you see things, or respect your opinion or move in any which way, you can’t engage them in a certain way, because it’s going to give you the opposite of what you’re trying to get out of there. What you have to do is instead open up space to give the other person a chance to introspect. And then if there are counter arguments that they haven’t considered, they have to write those counter arguments on their own. It has to be on their side. They have to produce them.

David: You can’t take your counter arguments, which may be the exact thing they’re going to think on their own, and then hand it over to them, because they’re going to spit it right out. “No thanks.” But if they create that counter argument through the conversation space, then they’ll own it and it’ll have weight and balance out whatever arguments they currently hold. And that’s how all this works. Every technique that I talk about does that in some way or form.

Andy: It’s interesting seeing the parallels between all these different approaches that you discovered from different people in different parts of the world, arriving at really remarkably similar frameworks for how to change people’s minds. And there’s so many really cool parallels. One phenomenon that I found interesting is this idea called belief change blindness.

David: Oh, yeah.

Andy: Yeah. And you saw this firsthand when you followed some canvasers around Los Angeles who were trying to change people’s minds about political issues. And that a lot of times people that had this conversation with the canvasers, they didn’t even really realize that their mind had been changed by the end of the conversation. They still felt like they were feeling the same way, and didn’t realize that they had actually completely flip flopped in their beliefs.

David: Yeah. That blew of mind. One of the things that was the most surprising that I never expected to find was all these different persuasion techniques I talked about in the book. Mostly had never met each other, had never looked at any of the science, the literature that would explain what they do. And they all independently came up with the same basic structure, and things that work in it are the same that work in all of them. And I talk in the book, I say, it’s like if you were going to try to build the first airplane. No matter where you did that on earth, it would end up looking like the same airplane, pretty much.

Andy: Right.

David: Physics is physics, wherever we are.

Andy: Totally.

David: Brains also, thanks to a bunch of stuff and evolution and a bunch of stuff in just how brains operate, things that work when it comes to persuasion work in all brains and in the same manner. But the belief change blindness, yeah. You’re the first person to ask me about that, which I think was really cool. It was something that I could not get over. When I spent time with the leadership lab in Los Angeles, at the LGBT Center of Los Angeles, because they developed something called deep canvassing. They go door to door, knock on people’s doors, and they have a very specific method about how they can get people to adjust their attitudes on wedge issues related, at the time they developed it for LGBQ rights, but now for just about any wed issue. This incredible library of all the conversations they’ve recorded, which at this point is more than 17,000 on video.

Andy: Wow.

David: And I just kept watching these. I spent time in their archives and just watch, watch, watch. And so often you could take that thing that I was talking about by going back in time, you could take the beginning of the conversation, a person says they feel one way. At the end of the conversation, they say they feel another. And you can back and forth see the difference. You can almost watch it slowly change. But from their subjective experience, after they see things differently, they often get upset if you bring up that they had a different number or they said something differently in the beginning they’re saying now. They would get weird about it because to them, it felt like, yeah, this is just how you would think about this. This is the natural conclusion you’d have.

David: And there’s actual literature for this called the belief change blindness. And there’s lots of studies where they track people over time who have changed their minds about certain things. Whether it’s a fact, like a belief or an attitude, when you ask them about their previously held beliefs, they really don’t recall, or they don’t feel very strongly that they ever felt differently about the issue. It’s related to something called consistency bias. We tend to be very biased in the direction of assuming that we have always thought, felt, and believe what we think, feel, and believe today.

David: There’s something else that I took out the book that I love so much called The End of History Illusion.

Andy: Oh, yes.

David: Where they have people who change very dramatically on things. But once they have changed, they say, “This is how I’ll feel about this forever.” So, we’re both blind in both retrospection and prospection. We’re creatures of the present in a lot of the areas. Unless you’ve been a YouTuber, you could look back and cringe at yourself, there are a lot of places it feel like, “Oh, I’ve has always been that way.”

Andy: But even then, you talk about a study in the book, I think related to the Challenger explosion, where they had people write thoughts about it and stuff like that, and they followed up with them a couple years later. And it was only 10% of people had got all of the things right, had still remembered correctly what all of the things were. But then when they went back and showed them their previous journal entry from two years ago, people would say things like, “Well, that is my handwriting, but no.”

David: You’re tricking me. They thought that was the trick in the experiment was that they had taken their handwriting and replicated an opinion that they don’t currently hold. And they were like, “I didn’t do that. There’s no way that I wrote that.” And yeah, it’s important to feel consistent, and we have a bias toward it. Oftentimes, in the history of a nation, when attitudes change very quickly, people will often say, “Of course, this is how I feel about this. Why would you feel differently?” But that person who’s saying that did feel differently at some point. And it’s odd that you can resist for years and years and years, and then after you change your mind, you’ll take on a frame of, “Well, it’s obvious anybody who saw this would feel this way, the way I feel about it now.”

David: And it can seem absolutely unconscionable that a person could feel differently, even though they used to feel differently. Which is something that you should think about, I think, whenever you consider either changes in individuals or changes in nations, that people may argue vehemently about something, but when they do change their mind, it will almost evaporate to for them. The whole issue will seem like why would anyone argue about it? Which is one of the questions that I had going in was, how could brains work that way? But there seems to be a lot of evidence behind why brains do actually work that way.

Andy: It just really makes me think about parent, teen relationships, and how so much as a parent, it’s hard to just even think that your teenager could be thinking this is a good idea, or not getting it, or not seeing it. And we forget that how we thought in the same way when we were teenagers, or that, hey, it’s been so long since we were actually in that head space, that it’s hard for us to even admit to ourselves or remember how it was when we felt that same way, or would have responded similarly in a situation like this. And so, I think a lot of learning more about this research and just understanding that about ourselves can help us have more empathy and be able to just put ourselves in that space a little bit more. And I think that’s really cool.

David: Yeah. I talk about that a lot. Cognitive empathy is what I like to call it, where there’s a good chance to express it in this very particular framing you’re giving me here. Over the line of you not being a teenager anymore, you can give them that space of, “Of course, this is how you should think about things. How could anybody see them any other way? And I’ve always felt this way.” And if you’re doling advice out to your teenager from that frame, they’re going to see right through that. If they don’t see through it, they’re going to react poorly to it because you are doing that thing you’re saying. Let me copy it basis in your brain as if I was never in this place you were before, as if I could never conceive of having behaved in the way you’re behaving, or thinking what you’re thinking, or feeling or believing, when you most likely, if not that, you were way.

Andy: Or this time machine idea, that if you put your current self now in the same room with your teenage self, you probably would be having the same argument, because we change.

David: That’s right.

Andy: Something in your book is this idea of disambiguation.

David: Oh, man.

Andy: And yeah, it’s at the core of a lot of what we’ve been talking about. And you talk about that whole dress meme that was super viral a few years back, where people were saying, “The dress is black. No, the dress is white,” and everyone’s looking at the same picture and they’re seeing the dress differently. And of course, the question is, well, how is it even possible that we could look at the exact same picture and someone could see it as black and someone else could see it as white? And this whole section of your book has really got me thinking, but I guess it comes down to this idea of disambiguation.

David: Disambiguation is what it sounds like. It’s taking something that’s ambiguous and making it not so ambiguous. And this usually happens when this new information, that to me it’s some sort of uncertainty. But what I like to point out in the book is that in the moments in which we take something ambiguous and make it less so, the fact that it was ever ambiguous usually doesn’t register. That’s hard to believe. Just take the dress as an example. The picture that went around the internet in 2015, when some people look at, it’s black and blue, and some people look at, it’s white and gold. And however you see it, that’s just the way you see it. But the truth of the matter is, it could be interpreted in either way. And the fact that you are interpreting it doesn’t seem to be something that you’re aware of. The fact that it was ever ambiguous, that you needed to make it less so, not something you’re aware of.

David: You only get the result of all that process. You don’t actually get to witness it take place inside your mind. And the short answer as to why that happens is the more exposure a person has had to sunlight over the course of their lives, the more they’ve seen things overexposed in sunlight. And the more you’ve seen things indoors in incandescent light, the more you have seen things overexposed in incandescent light. And just the variations of life experience can lead a person to these two different assumptions when it comes to overexposure. And that’s an image that’s overexposed right on the edge where it could be seen as being overexposed in sunlight, or overexposed in incandescent light. Sunlight is mostly in the blue spectrum, and incandescent light is mostly in the yellow spectrum. So, the brain will try to subtract the overexposure to help you see it the way it should be seen.

Andy: What color is it really?

David: Right. And so, some people subtract blue, some people subtract yellow, and the result is either black and blue, white gold. The thing is you don’t know you’re doing that. And I remember the arguments took place in line at that time was like, the people who see this differently than me are bonkers. And then I remember seeing local news reports where they argued at the end, they were like, “What’s wrong with you? It’s white and gold.” It was infallible whether you could see it differently. And the researchers at NYU that I spent time with that helped me understand this, they developed this model. They said this helps understand disagreement itself. They called it surf pad.

David: And in moments of substantial uncertainty, and in the presence of ramified or forked prior assumptions, it will always lead to disagreement. So, ramified means branching. But the point of that is, the prior assumptions part is everything that’s happened to you over the course of your lifetime that leads you to have a certain kind of model that disambiguates in a certain way, there are moments in life that are ambiguous.

David: And in those moments, people will disagree with one another about how to disambiguate it. But it won’t feel that way. And it can often lead people to feeling like, “This is the only way to see this.” Pasco Wallace, who did the research and all this, he said, “It’s not completely unbelievable to think that political groups could form around one way of seeing the dress in another.

Andy: Yeah. Right.

David: Because I mean, all that would have to happen is like-minded people who spend a lot of time with each other online, they meet each other through the dress somehow. And then somehow they end up black and bluers and yellow and golders. And then all that has to happen is that some subset of that community has very particular anxieties and fears, maybe prejudices about the world, and they group up. And then now you have a pretty tight cluster of people.

David: And then those people can form a larger and larger group until they have clout that could be expressed politically. So, it’s not unfathomable. He wanted to demonstrate that surf pad is something that we should be aware of whenever we disagree with other people. They may have no options in that regard. They just simply are experiencing the world as they experience it, and they’re not aware that they’re doing any sort of disambiguating. And so, that’s not to forgive anyone for having a heinous viewpoint or doing something that’s harmful in this world or wishing harm upon you perhaps even, but it does give you an opportunity to understand, “Okay, if I wanted to affect change in this regard, this is something I had to take into account.”

Andy: And it’s just such a perfect metaphor, I think. Especially because the difference between outdoor lighting and indoor lighting, and so the people who really spent a lot of time outdoors and have that experience will tend to disambiguate the image in one way, as people who have spent more time indoors or work indoors for long periods of time will tend to see it another way, and their brain disambiguates it another way. And you write that people with broadly similar experiences and motivations tend to disambiguate in broadly similar ways. That’s so true. And we get in these groups of people that are like us, or parents, you’re talking to your spouse, and you’re talking to your friends who are also parents, “My kid just doesn’t get it.”

Andy: They’re all going to agree with you, because they’ve got really similar views to you. But your teenager is maybe having similar conversations with their friend like, “Can you believe my parent? Just so out of touch, not understanding this,” because they’re disambiguating the issue in a completely other way, based on their own experiences, and their friends are similar.

David: I’ve got a good example of this. Putting a period at the end of your sentence in a text message. If you are at a certain age range, that comes across as being aggressive. It comes across as you’re trying to either, some sort of tone. And over a certain age, it’s just like, “I just put periods at the end of my sentences because it’s proper English.” But it makes no sense why a person could see it any differently than you see it. It makes the other person seem so silly. But the reason for that is, if you grew up in a world of text messaging and you grew up in a world of messaging at all, there’s no need to put up period at the end of your sentences, because the text message ends the statement.

Andy: You click send to send a message.

David: The purpose of a sentence is inside a page of text to say this particular statement I’ve made is over and now I’m starting another one. It ends the sentence and starts another. So, it had a purpose that you don’t have to have it in that world. So, in that world, it frees up the period to serve a new purpose, which is, “Okay. If I’m adding a period to something that already has concluded, then I’m trying to say it with strength.” It’s one of those things where if you refuse to communicate in that way with someone who sees it differently than you, you are also refusing to understand why they would see things that way. And you’re rejecting the fact that they can’t help but see it that way, and that’s not going to be useful for any kind of conversation.

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About David McRaney

David McRaney is the author of How Minds Change. He started the popular blog You Are Not So Smart in 2009, which was adapted into a book and then a successful podcast. David’s second book, You Are Now Less Dumb, was released in 2013. David tours internationally to speak about reasoning, judgment, and the mind. His most recent project is a six-hour audio documentary exploring the history of the idea and the word ‘genius.’

As a newspaper reporter, David has covered everything from Hurricane Katrina to NASA rockets. He’s worked as an editor, commercial writer,  photographer, voiceover artist, television host, journalism teacher, lecturer, pet store owner, and more. As the  head of digital media for WDAM-TV he produced The Green Couch Sessions, a TV show about the music of the Deep South.

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