Matthew Feinberg, University of Toronto – Persuading Political Opponents

feinbergIf you want someone to switch political sides, try their perspective.

Matthew Feinberg, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, explores why people tend to stick to their own side in a heated debate.

Matthew Feinberg is an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Rotman. He earned his PhD in Social Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. His research explores the underlying psychological processes that lead individuals to join together to form cohesive groups and societies, with a particular focus on morality and political attitudes. Matthew’s research has been published in journals such as Psychological Science, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Emotion, and Political Psychology. His work has been covered by various media outlets including The Washington Post, New York Times, Reuters, Fox News, Scientific American, Al Jazeera, CBS News, USA Today, WebMD, National Geographic, Huffington Post, and San Francisco Chron.


election-2016Persuading Political Opponents


Why is it so hard to persuade someone from the other side of the political spectrum to support your position? “What’s wrong with them?” you may ask. The question you should be asking is “What’s wrong with my argument that makes it so unpersuasive?”

Research shows that liberals more strongly endorse values like compassion, fairness, and equality, whereas conservatives more strongly endorse values like group loyalty, tradition, and sanctity. If you make arguments appealing to your own values, chances are you’ll be less effective. But, if you take your audience’s moral perspective your arguments can be more persuasive.

Of course, this is no easy task. When asked to compose arguments aimed at persuading the political opposition, we found participants base their arguments on their own values, not those of the audience they’re aiming to persuade.

But, we find, there is good reason to reframe your arguments so they appeal to your audience’s values. In one study, we presented conservative participants with arguments in favor of same-sex marriage. One group read arguments grounded in fairness and equality concerns, emphasizing that everyone should have an equal right. A second group of conservatives read arguments grounded in group loyalty concerns, highlighting how gay Americans are proud, patriotic Americans who contribute to our nation. Conservatives in this second group reported more endorsement of same-sex marriage. In a separate study, we presented arguments in favor of military spending to liberals. Some read arguments grounded in notions of loyalty and patriotism, highlighting how the military makes America great. Others read arguments grounded in fairness concerns, emphasizing how the military levels the playing field for America’s poor and minorities. This fairness argument persuaded the liberals significantly more.

So, the next time you’re trying to persuade someone from the other side of the political spectrum, try understanding their moral perspective. Not only will this show that you respect them and where they’re coming from, but you might just end up persuading them.


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