Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ch Ch Changes

I think we've all read articles or heard stories about how difficult it is to get people to change their minds about things based on evidence and logical argument, as opposed to emotion and/or personal experience. It's why groups fighting hunger don't show you pie charts, but rather the faces of starving children. Or why Senator X doesn't raise an eyebrow over the statistics on rising autism rates (to pick an example), until a friend's grandkid gets diagnosed, and then research funding becomes priority one.  

I also think that most of us like to believe that we make our decisions based largely on evidence, as opposed to emotion or whether we have happened to experience something personally. All this got me wondering - when was the last time I changed my mind about something relatively significant based on evidence/a logical argument?  Note that I'm talking here about changing an already-held opinion, not forming a new opinion (which I think we do far more frequently based on evidence).

First of all, I had to admit it has been a long time since I have changed my mind about anything big. About 8-10 years ago I changed my mind about the whole nature vs. nurture question, going from an almost total belief in nurture to a MUCH more balanced view. But that wasn't based on evidence; that was based on becoming a parent. Politically, I haven't had any major changes in outlook in a long time, only becoming more liberal as I have more lived experience and read more widely.

Then I finally thought of something. An ugly something. A prejudice that I am not proud of, and that I stubbornly held onto until, I am ashamed to say it, very recently. That is, a prejudice against fat people.  Not that I dismissed overweight people out of hand; not that there weren't people I love who are or had been severely overweight. But I admit, on some level I believed that to be greatly overweight was to be lazy, to lack self-discipline. Not only did our culture broadcast this message constantly, but my lived experience taught me this. I was thin; when I gained a couple of pounds I just ate less for a few days and it was all good, so why was it so hard for fat people to get control of this problem? Ugh.

Then I started reading articles on obesity, and how very little self-discipline actually has to do with weight. How two people can eat the same amount of calories and do the same amount of exercise and one will gain weight and one will lose weight. How gut flora, and hormones, and genetics, and things we can't yet account for all contribute to obesity.

I don't know why it took scientific evidence rather than just basic human decency to get rid of my bigotry, but in this case, evidence changed my mind. Evidence helped me get past an ugly emotional response that had no basis in reality but was there nonetheless.

I don't know that this one, idiosyncratic example sheds any light on how we open our minds to change, but I'm interested in the mechanics of changing minds.

For anyone reading, can you think of examples of evidence/logical arguments changing your mind about something meaningful?

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