Changing People’s Minds

Cognitive dissonance (CD) is decidedly uncomfortable. There are degrees of discomfort and mental panic. Falling up would be an intense experience with life and limb at risk. Finding out a friend has sold us out much less so. We would still deal with the surprise, disbelief, and readjust our model of who to trust (meta world) because of our friend’s behavior. But, we would not be at a live or die right now panic level decision.

Questioning our beliefs always verges on creating CD and some level of discomfort and effort. Our mind can see it coming. This type of thought is avoided as our minds strive for comfort and low energy use. Our unconscious minds play tricks with us to avoid problems. Psychologist have well documented how our subconscious mind protects us form those things it thinks we cannot deal with.

So, if we are going to change another’s mind, we have to somehow circumvent the natural human behaviors. Said another way we have to find a way around their subconscious’ protective barriers. No easy task. Psychologists spend years learning their skill and may take years to get through to a person.

Presenting facts that require a person to think or challenge beliefs and possibly risk a bout of cognitive dissonance simply does not work. The subconscious mind will find a way to avoid dealing with disagreeable facts until the pain from those facts is greater than the discomfort from the cognitive dissonance.

Great Debates

In American history political debate among people was considered a citizen’s duty. Thomas Jefferson’s often quoted; “a well informed populace is vital to the operation of a democracy” is partially where the idea of a ‘duty’ comes from. To not talk politics or religion is about as un-American as it gets.

The point of Jefferson’s statement is people needed to discuss politics and figure out what worked and was best for each person. The results would be what is best for the country.

One of the big problems with changing minds is the loss of civility. That has resulted in many deciding it is not safe to discuss either politics or religion and that leads to the downfall of democracy and the loss of freedom. That loss also means many people are not willing to engage in discussion of smaller points. That allows misconceptions to stand unchallenged.

It is not possible to debate without civility and personal respect. One does not have to respect another’s ideas. But, there must be respect for the person.

I can’t imagine how a flat-earth believer can do it. They certainly have to lack an understanding of math and the scientific method. Lacking math skills and an understanding of the scientific method does not necessarily make them stupid, just under educated, ignorant.

Telling them they are ignorant doesn’t work. Even demonstrating what they are ignorant of is problematic. It may win the debate in the judges/audiences minds. But, if we are centered on changing ‘their’ mind, how it is done will matter more than what is demonstrated.

Once ad hominem attacks are made the disrespect is obvious and the debate lost. No mind will be changed after that point. People intuitively understand transference and act on it whether they are conscious of it or not. So, if someone says a person is stupid, they have unconsciously told the person: ‘I am stupid. Don’t listen to me.’ That pretty much ends the conversation/debate as the person stops listening.

Experienced debaters know once they push an opponent to engage in ad hominem attacks they have won. Both they and the judges (audience) know the attacker has no good talking points left. The debate is over and the attacker has lost.


We see politicians using ad hominem attacks that presumably work. So, may people are now adopting that strategy in their discussions and debates. They don’t understand something else is at play with politicians.

The point of a debate is to be convincing and change minds based on well-reasoned discussion. Intellectual honesty becomes an aspect of reaching the ‘truth’ of a matter. Politicians often have an agenda other than arriving at the best policy or decision and their rhetoric is about convincing by any means possible. Intellectual honesty and reasonable discussion are early casualties in the political arenas. But, eventually people learn the truth of matters. One day we will all know first hand if we can keep our heath care policy or not.

When discussing Second Life the political rules for radicals that promote ad hominem attacks on those that disagree as a basic tactic won’t work. The truth is one login away.

So, what strategy is going to work for us?

Example: Climate Debate

The Climate Change Debate is an excellent example of all the problems we will deal with in changing minds about Second Life. Every day we can see examples of what is and is not working in this debate.

The great man made global warming debate has so many sides and agendas, and so many people engaging without a clear understanding of the science, math, stats, or ability to research history it has made it nearly impossible for a casual observer to evaluate the debates.

There is propaganda and spin from a seemly endless series of sources. Big names quote statistics by a pro-warmer activist (John Cook – Skeptical Science – Pro AGW) that looked at some 11,000+ scientists’ papers and found 97% agree global warming is manmade. But, few report the analyst is a pro-warmer activist that eliminated a massive number of scientists’ papers in his tabulation of the 97% and of those remaining only a small number were used for the basis of the 97% being said to support manmade warming at some point in their papers.  (Reference, reference)

Quoting authority, while an age old debate tactic (Argumentum ab auctoritate), is not considered a winning strategy by accomplished debaters and judges. The debate often devolves into a debate about the authorities quoted, which is generally off topic. Cook’s 97% is an excellent example of supposed authority being misleading and becoming the subject of the debate.

The on going debates on whether we are warming and headed for a melt down or whether temperatures have been dropping since 1934 and we are headed for an ice age are great examples of what does and does not work in debating.

The Mountain

So, when we set out to change a mind, what are we up against?

We have to deal with people’s natural human tendencies toward ideological and belief persistence and perseverance, but we also have to deal with a mountain of people with agendas, biases, and ignorance.

The media is no longer in the business of reporting facts and allowing people to decide. They are in the business of capturing readers/viewers for advertising dollars. They need to hype things. No matter what it is, a reporter needs to write something that will draw readers. So, SL is a place for sex because articles about sex will draw readers. What else is going to draw people to read about a virtual world, I mean beyond the few playing in them? Sex will do it. So, SL articles in the mainstream need to have a sexy headline.

The result is we encounter minds that have been flooded with media articles about the sexual nature of SL. They have probably never checked out SL. They just bought the story. How does one overcome that?

Drax has found one good way: World Makers. His videos are a counter to the mainstream news that needs sex to sell their drivel. But, what is the strategy with those videos?

I see it as finding what interests people and showing how SL can serve those interests better than other tools. The basic sales pitch.

Rod Humble is answering questions about sex in SL with an effective response. Paraphrasing: What about all the sex and perversity in Second Life? Yes, it is there, but less so than on Google search. – Think about that.

No denial. This removes the need to overcome all the claims of wild sex and diverse perversion presented by the media. But, it puts it in perspective with a tool with which those hearing the comment are familiar. Google has sex and perversion, but it is not in-your-face 24×7. Nor is sex the primary purpose or USE of Google. People can personally relate first hand and get perspective. Personal experience trumps authority, in this case media stories.


There is no simple way to change a mind. We have the media against us. We have human nature against us. Plus every person is different and so requires a different solution to change their mind.

Drax’s solution works to counter media presentations. The videos are a tool like a brochure people can point to.

Rod’s come back to the sex question works well for a number of reasons.

May be we will find more smart ways to convey the nature of Second Life. Changing minds and overcoming beliefs based in ignorance of SL is going to be challenging. It would seem to be much simpler to just find what interests a person and show them that aspect of SL.

8 thoughts on “Changing People’s Minds

  1. 99 of 100 people have no idea what SL is and have no perception of it. The ones that do have a perception is us, the clients. What message do we send out to the world that has no perception? Read the blogs made by the clients to find out. We tell the world how to perceive Second Life.
    I am so glad Drax gives a positive view. I so hope non-clients read and see it.

  2. Does any government have a propaganda campaign for computer games? Other than Australia, not that I know of.

    Drax’s comment has intrigued me….

  3. This is an interesting read.

    I’m certain that Second Life will be less stigmatized as more people join
    for professional reasons.

    I have absolutely no friends in my real life who will log in and or
    even look at it.

    There is also something to be said for the idea that there is a kernel
    of truth to every observation.

    I think that rather than changing people’s minds by damning the criticism
    we might want to prove them wrong.

    Thank you for an interesting post.

    Rob Goldstein

  4. I think that changes come from within, so you cannot change other people’s mind: they change it, if they accept what you offer. You have no power on that, but you can inform them and counter the misinformation.
    Honestly SL is plenty of sex, so much that sometimes I wonder if it is not me who has the wrong idea of SL. But SL is like the Net: the Net is plenty of sex websites as well, but this doesn’t make the Net a porn place. SL is plenty of sex sims and people in sex groups, but this doesn’t make SL a porn game… and don’t even a game.

    • We do know how to change people’s minds. I was pointing out why changing minds is often so difficult and why people resist facts.

      Sex is everywhere. Watched a Carl’s Burger commercial lately? (Example) But, once again the problems with sex is in what we think about it.

      I often see the problems in communication coming from people not thinking things through well before speaking. Not to pick on you, but saying the net is not a porn place seems to have the implied meaning it is or isn’t. Saying, the net is not JUST a porn place, I think more accurately describes it. We all tend to communicate poorly and ONLY think of a narrow set of concepts as we from sentences. I believe we mostly do the same with our thinking.

      • I agree that is important to communicate well, but It is also important to read correctly. If I say that “the Net is plenty of sex, but this doesn’t make the Net a porn place”, this actually means that the Net is not just a porn place, even if it is plenty of sex. I used those terms exactly because there are people who reason by extremes and absolutes, and conclude that a part (even if it is a big slice of the cake) makes the whole: Thus, just because it is plenty of sex, this doesn’t make the Net a porn place (in absolute terms). It is in large part, but not only that.

        And, I’m sorry, the only person you can actually change is yourself:

        At most you can inform and adopt communication strategies, and who is open to your information could accept it and so them could change their own minds. But don’t expect it, no matter how much proof, logic thoughts, well-reasoned discussion and anything else you bring: some people won’t change their own minds. After many years of debunking, the same absurd theories are still around. And in politics, fact checking has less effect than expected. Yet debunking and fact checking are important.

        • JOHN M. GROHOL, PSY.D., presents a nice concept for those interested in self-help. But, changing one’s self is not the only way to change minds. Proctor & Gamble learned how to change minds long ago from analyzing decades of market data and studies. In the 1950’s subliminal advertising laws were passed because there is no way for the unsuspecting to avoid such manipulation. The UK and USA have several laws against it. See: –

          Plus there is the whole field of neuro linguistic programming. Richard Bandler and John Grinder developed the field in the 70’s. Dr. Ginder used to delight in sliding people out of there chairs via his voice & body language while lecturing about the subject to demonstrate the power of the technique.

          An example in action:
          An example using Fox News: – I think the narrator reads too much into what is happening. Personally I doubt either Combs or Hanity are intelligent enough to understand NLP and use it effectively as the narrator says. But, that does not mean they have not learned manipulation skills. Bandler & Ginder formalized the tools some learn into a learnable and powerful format as NLP. Even 3 to 5 year olds learn how to manipulate their parents to get what they want. What the narrator is pointing out is indeed how NLP can be executed. All media outlets and most people do similar things.

          People have a hard time admitting and often believing how easily they can be manipulated. Anyone working in marketing knows about NLP and how effective it is. For marketing types and politicians it is important people NOT believe how effective NLP is as it leaves them defenseless. Leaning such knowledge is usually a strong source of cognitive dissonance.

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