The Backfire Effect

By Anupum Pant

Someone said, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

Or look at it this way. Deep down you know you are wrong about something, but don’t want to admit it right away because it will make you look bad. In time, this belief becomes deeper and before you know, you actually start believing in it.

You could do two things if you know you are wrong. You could either admit you are wrong right away. That’ll hurt your reputation a tiny bit. Or you could just keep believing in it to save that little dent in your reputation right now, till the point where you are so invested in it, in terms of time, that you don’t ever choose to admit that you were wrong in the first place. Which of course will destroy the years of effort you put into this. But you’ll never do the former because you won’t think through the consequences that will show years later, rather you’ll care more about your reputation right now, and will stick to your belief, even if you know you are not so right.

This is commonly referred to as the Backfire effect – The backfire effect occurs when, in the face of contradictory evidence, established beliefs do not change but actually get stronger. It has been proven and been test, over and over again through out the history of this planet.

TV shows, people and movies, for instance make use of this technique to gain popularity. They’ll introduce abusive or controversial content and gain more popularity when it’s being protested through primary outlets that have a massive audience. In a most simple case, a kid’s parent telling them not to do something leads the kid to get attached more towards doing it, even when he/she has been informed by their parents that it is not a good thing to do.

The kid at first doesn’t know it is wrong and do it because it doesn’t seem wrong. His/her parents inform them, and now they have a contradictory argument. Intuitively, the contradictory argument should make the kid stop doing it. But that does not happen. That’s how our brains work. And that’s one way you can trick someone into getting convinced about something by introducing contradictory arguments. This is almost as counter-intuitive as the Benjamin Franklin effect and can be used for similar psychological games.

If you’re feeling especially mischievous, you can use the backfire effect to trap someone into a bad position and pound them repeatedly to get what you want. Martin Luther king actually did this to Jim clark to raise awareness for American civil rights.

What should be evident from the studies on the backfire effect is you can never win an argument online. When you start to pull out facts and figures, hyperlinks and quotes, you are actually making the opponent feel as though they are even more sure of their position than before you started the debate. As they match your fervor, the same thing happens in your skull. The backfire effect pushes both of you deeper into your original beliefs. – You are not so smart (book)

This video has a few interesting examples to understand better how it works.

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