In our January Diversity Journal Club, we discussed addressing entrenched beliefs.
While the article discussed talked about the how misconceptions are embraced, spread, and held onto, there have been a few other useful stories out there to look at. One is here:
Biochem Belle shared this post by Hilda Bastian that is also relevant:
Another is this interview with George Lakoff, about making sure any counter-messaging isn’t reinforcing misinformation, the “don’t think of an elephant” principle. It’s about creating a new frame, one that reinforces a narrative of inclusion, science, protections, and public goods.
Another is Will Storr’s book The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science, recently discussed by the 538 science writer’s team on the Sparks podcast. One thing that gets brought up is that misconceptions can be cultural and help people, as they show with the concept of someone in Pakistan being infected with a Djinn..what we in the west would call mental illness. But Djinn framing helps people take care of those afflicted and people are taken care of. It’s worth a listen and describes just how complicated it can be to figure out when it is and isn’t worth attempting to correct misperceptions.
As Doctor PMS points out, there is a difference between uninformed and misinformed. For the former, people are much more likely to be open to new information if they are curious to learn/listen. As a general rule, adopting the curiosity mindset and being humble and honest about what we do and don’t know can help us overcome misinformation. While these require self-reflection and sparking that curiosity may be challenging, the distinction remains critical.
In terms of unwinding misconceptions, either for the mis- or uninformed, Ruthie Birger pointed out that that re-framing things so they are relevant to people’s lives can help people to understand new things, such as expanding on the use of safe spaces, although this comes with a downside:
In addressing entrenched beliefs, it’s also important to remember that even those misinformed often feel they are doing the right thing for the right reasons, something that Will Storr gets at in his book as well. The misinformed are most often good, likeable people:
Finding a way to make things personal and relevant to their lives is also crucial – or as Lakoff might say, use a frame that resonates (i.e. here’s how this affects you and your family, how it affected mine, etc). Humans work through stories. And realize, that especially online, the goal isn’t always to persuade. Allowing everyone see and understand your story also matters.
Despite the challenge, there is hope in addressing entrenched beliefs and misperceptions. Sparking curiosity may be one way (however you do that). In addition, recent research has shown that telling an opponent a story, a lived experience, can change minds. One thing to keep in mind is that once people are moved, the change is often for the longer term. After all, our brains change over time, and there is no going back. The world we live in always has new wrinkles to it as well as echoes of history that remain familiar.
We also need to be aware of our own biases, as Echo Rivera points out. Science works because it can falsify testable hypotheses through observations. We must consistently be recognizing what we don’t know, and the point in which we need to seek out other credible sources, think more, and be humble. Knowledge is power – and sometimes it is someone else who has that knowledge.
Finally, even thought people generally do have good intentions, it is also important to realize some lines can’t be crossed. If a belief is actively harming someone, or is a belief being brought into a context of science when it isn’t science – these need to be addressed, not accepted as opinion.
Thanks to all who contributed and joined our discussion, which can also be seen on storify, thanks to Doctor PMS!