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The Backfire Effect

#Donald Trump #backfire effect #cognitive dissonance #Madonna
Tell me something…over the past week have you had the feeling that you might have stumbled into a parallel universe and that the world as you know it has gone fricking mad? I know I have!

Even the people I thought I knew have left me in utter amazement at the utter drivel that have past their lips. I have had so many “I can’t believe you just said that moments” It beggars belief. For example. I wrote a post about Madonna’s performance at the Woman’s March. It was called ‘Message to Madonna’. I posted in on my page called ‘Engineer in Heels’. Well you would have thought I had told people that I had killed a relative of theirs. One woman rebuked me saying that I shouldn’t criticise another woman because that showed us in a bad light….and then with no word of a lie ripped into me…using some choice profanities and calling me a ‘fool’. One woman told me off for not mentioning the sex trade and women’s slavery market all over the world. WTF! Many of the women who commented went into a diatribe about Trump…for Trump …against Trump. Now here’s where it gets really weird, nowhere in my ‘Message to Madonna’ post did I mention Donald Trump. Right now if you mention anything remotely to do with anything someone will get upset. We can’t talk about crowds…the weather…or the facts.

Is it just me or has art of conversation, discussion and debate collapsed. Poof! Overnight. Replaced with…well nonsense. Sensible people have to shake their head in wonder at how long they will have to endear comments like ‘alternative facts’ and “I know words I have the best words…” It makes you wonder why you bothered to get an education!


At first glance you may think that these people are suffering from cognitive dissonance. Well some of them may be but the majority are not…and I’ll tell you why not. I have a friend who has been a smoker for more years than I care to mention. She knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that smoking is bad for her and yet she is unable to kick the habit. So she has two conflicting pieces of information entering her brain at the same time. If you say to a smoker do you know that smoking is bad for you they will nod their heads in agreement. They read the passive aggressive signs ‘smoking can kill’ on their cigarette packets and say something like “Yes but …you got to die of something”. But the craziness we are experiencing is not just cognitive dissonance….because at least most cognitive dissonancetors … yes I have just made that word up … have the common sense to agree when presented with facts and data. What we are witnessing is something more sinister. It is cognitive dissonance on steroids and it is called ‘the backfire effect’.

is a term used by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler to describe how some people when confronted with information facts and evidence that conflict with their beliefs, will not back down. In fact the more you argue the more entrenched in their beliefs they become. So instead of enlightening them it has the complete opposite. I am sure you have had a discussion with someone and the more you argue…the more they dig in.

Once someone has had their beliefs challenged they will not let it lie. They nit-pick…looking for weakness in your argument…coming back at you with information that is obscure…out of context or irrelevant. When confronted with data they always “know a guy…” there’s always a “yes but” there is always a counter story. To them the exception always proves the rule.

Who is more likely to fall under the spell of the backfire effect…?

There has not been a lot of research as to why people act in such a bizarre way. The indicators are that people who tend to fall under the influence of the backfire effect suffer a persecution complex or low self-esteem.

How to dodge the backfire effect

-The only way to get through this period is to withdraw. Stop talking. The more people talk the more of a ‘them and us’ situation is created. I know communicating is great but at this time it is the last thing we should be doing. It takes a very big person indeed to say I was wrong or I’ve changed my mind.
If you find yourself in the middle of a conversation that you didn’t start and which suddenly turns weird then instead of playing verbal ping pong…do this:

Find something that the person has said to agree with. But don’t just say ‘I agree’ because you might come across as patronising. So what you have to say is “I agree with the point you made on such and such…I agree because…

-Introduce empathy. Show that you are willing to listen and be flexible. “I agree with you and if I were in your shoes I would feel the same…”

-Say “you’re right…” and then go on to explain in what way they might be are right. This will take the wind out of the other person’s sails. This is very hard to do but it really depends what oyur motivation is….a) do you want to build bridges or b) do you want to be right!

There is good news….just because people make out as if they haven’t heard you doesn’t mean that they haven’t heard you and over time there will be adjustments. We will see changes. We can only hope!

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If you feel you could benefit from coaching, counselling, mentoring or training on any matter in your personal or professional life then book yourself in for your own personal and confidential session with me. Go to my website http://bevbakerseminars.com to find out more. Or to book directly go to http://bit.ly/2j6ghlC Or if you want to get a feel for how I work… go to my You Tube The Coaching Channel http://bit.ly/2j8rrZY

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