How to change someone's mind, according to scientists who studied debates on Reddit

How to change someone's mind, according to scientists who studied debates on Reddit

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With just a month left until the US presidential elections, perhaps you've resigned yourself to letting a friend vote for a candidate you loathe.

What more could you possibly say to change their mind?

Enter a study, cited on The Washington Post, by Cornell University scientists who looked at activity on ChangeMyView, a Reddit forum where people pose arguments and ask others to challenge them.

The scientists found that most Redditors don't ultimately change their minds. But the arguments that won people over shared some common characteristics.

Most importantly, persuasive arguments use words that are different from the original poster's. Including quotations from the original post generally weakens the argument, the study found.

Persuasive arguments are also supported by specific examples. The researchers noted that definite articles such as "the" are preferred over indefinite articles such as "a." And the phrases "for example" and "for instance" appear more frequently in persuasive arguments.

Interestingly, hedging is also characteristic of persuasive arguments. For example, a Redditor might say, "It could be the case." The researchers suspect that expressing some uncertainty softens an argument's tone and makes it easier to accept.

Consider deleting the emoticons, too: The study found that persuasive arguments are generally calm, as opposed to highly emotional, and definitely not too happy.

Again, there's no guarantee that if you deploy these strategies, you'll convince your friend to vote differently. Remember that the Redditors in this study were more or less open to being convinced of another perspective — which your friend may not be.

And if these tactics don't work, you can always try quickening your speech — a technique scientists say is especially effective when your argument opponent disagrees with you.

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