The Backfire Effect

The last class before we left  for Thanksgiving Professor McCoy played a podcast for us about how to convince someone of something while avoiding the backfire effect. At the time I had no idea how ideal the timing of this podcast would be. Thanksgiving for my family means my mom’s entire side of the family gathering in a tiny house, chatting with each other all while stuffing our faces with turkey and mashed potatoes. Everybody always warns that during the holidays “Don’t talk about politics”.  While I safely avoided the discussion of politics with relatives I did not avoid a Thanksgiving dispute about gun control. My aunt’s husband is a corrections officer so everyday he works with a gun strapped onto his belt. He also, by choice, carries an off-duty pistol when he is not working. This is what ultimately started the discussion. My mom asked him “is that a gun clipped to your belt”. I was standing right next to her so naturally I turned to hear his response. Him and my mom had a brief discussion about why he was carrying it. Then, I got involved. The overview of my conversation was my uncle and I arguing over if carrying a pistol in public should be legal in New York. The conversation ended up being an unfortunate example of the backfire effect. 

Thinking back on my conversation I have some ideas on how in the future I will better present my argument. Today in class our individual groups were working on possible solutions to help put a stop to medical voluntourism. My group ultimately decided that a series of self-reflective questions would be the best way to approach the problem and to avoid the backfire effect. We thought that if we helped to guide someone to the conclusion on their own they would be less likely to refute the ideas. Looking back at the conversation with my uncle I believe this technique would have been quite successful. Instead of aggressively arguing with somebody by using guiding questions it helps the other person to find the solution on there own. During RA training I was taught a similar technique when trying to help residents deal with situations. Rather than telling a resident exactly what they should do if you help them come to their own solution they are much more likely to act on it. To wrap up this blog post I think the take away message is that the backfire effect is preventable and also to avoid heated debates with family on holidays.




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