A reader who works for New Mexico State University posed an interesting question in an email to me: “Now that the pro-lifers hold a slight lead in most popular opinion polls, how valuable is it really when it comes to turning hearts in a discussion?”

S/he based her question on a recent study posted at Science Daily that found:

What would happen if you developed a strong opinion on an issue, and later found that the majority of people disagreed with you?

You might think that such a revelation would encourage you to rethink your beliefs. But a new study suggests people often react just the opposite: people grow more confident in some beliefs when they find out later that a majority of people disagree with them.

“It may be that you feel proud because you were able to disprove, in your own mind, an opinion that most people have accepted,” said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

“You actually become doubly sure you were right.”…

The results suggest how would-be persuaders could strategically reveal the majority or minority status of a proposal to achieve the maximum persuasive effect.

If you feel you have a weak argument, it should be best to suggest right away that a lot of people support your issue, before you make your case. In that case, you’re hoping that the majority endorsement will prevent people from counterarguing. People will rely on the “wisdom of the crowd” to guide their thoughts, without actually considering the issue, Petty explained.

If you tell people you have majority support after you make your weak arguments, it is too late – it will only serve to give people confidence in the negative thoughts they have generated about your cause, Petty said.

But for those with a strong argument, it can be helpful to reveal wide support for your proposal after explaining it, as this gives people confidence in the positive thoughts they have generated to your strong arguments, Petty said….


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