Preaching Without Conviction

9 Mar

You may have noticed that during debates and arguments, some people tend to get loud. A recent study suggests that the loud ones are less secure in their arguments. The article explores whether shaking a belief would make a person more likely to advocate and proselytize—and not less likely to do so, as one would intuitively conclude. The findings are surprising.

David Gal and Derek D. Rucker tested the following paradox: people advocate their beliefs more after those beliefs have been shaken.

To investigate whether this actually occurs and why, they asked whether advocating would be a way to support the person’s self-concept and identity, which may have also been shaken in the process since a person’s beliefs are a part of his/her self-concept (Experiment 1). They also tested whether persuasion efforts are higher if the belief is more important (Experiment 2), and whether advocating a belief would be more likely to reinforce the belief in an advocating individual when it is effective (Experiment 3).

In the first experiment, participants were primed to write either about what they themselves liked or what their parents liked, and then induced to feel either confident or doubtful.  They were asked to write about their views on animal testing.

The participants that were uncertain in their views put forth more persuasion effort than those that were confident. However, there was no difference in persuasion effort between the uncertain and the confident if they got to write about themselves beforehand. This shows that when people have already affirmed their self, there is no need to affirm it more through persuasion of their beliefs.

The second experiment was a survey in which participants were initially primed to feel either confident or uncertain. They rated their confidence about the correctness of their diet, and then they rated the importance of their diet choice. Finally, they had to write about why their own diet is advantageous.

Those that were uncertain put forth more effort than those that were confident. But there was no difference in persuasion effort between the doubtful and the confident when the correctness of their diet was not important.

And finally, in the third experiment, after being induced to feel either certain or uncertain, the participants, who were all Mac users, were asked whether they believed Macs to be superior to PCs and then to rate their confidence about that. A group of the participants were told to imagine talking about their Mac to a PC user who would be open-minded about switching, and another group to imagine talking to a closed-minded PC user instead. They then rated the likelihood that they would attempt to convince the PC user to switch.

When believing their audience to be open-minded, the uncertain were more likely to attempt to persuade than the confident. However, when the audience was believed to be close-minded, there was no difference in the likelihood of persuasion attempt between the confident and the uncertain. This provides evidence for the effectiveness of persuasion being a factor in determining whether a person will attempt to persuade/advocate.

Consistent with finding in all three experiments, being in doubt made one more likely to put effort into persuasion. Why? Because important beliefs are part of one’s identity, and persuasion is a way to affirm that identity. Also consistent with persuasion as a way to affirm the belief of the self, one would be more likely to persuade a person whom would be more receptive.

Should you suspect the beliefs of the next person who seems to be putting a lot of effort into persuading others?

Article image via: www.homeschoolent.com

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2 Responses to “Preaching Without Conviction”

  1. Amy Keegan 29. Oct, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    so..what is going on (psychologically or what have you) when one never bothers to attempt to persuade another..conciously i think i am being respectful of the others right to choose to believe what they will..but I do wonder..

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