Why You Can’t Win an Internet Argument

Why You Can’t Win an Internet Argument


[INTRO ♪] Let’s be honest: we all try to win arguments
on the internet, even though we know it’s pointless. Sometimes when you’re scrolling through
your Facebook or Twitter feed, bad opinions and misunderstandings
just jump out at you, and you have to set your friends and followers straight. But if it seems like your impeccable logic is always met with hostility and digging in— well, that’s exactly what’s happening. Psychologists have put a lot of thought into
how people argue— both online and off— and they’ve found plenty of reasons why
people rarely change their minds. Part of the problem is that correcting someone can actually strengthen the memory and influence
of their original belief— the one you think is clearly wrong. It’s known as the backfire effect. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research
in 2005 demonstrated this by giving 335 people a list
of science facts and myths, then clarifying right afterward which were
true and which weren’t. 30 minutes later, they asked half of the subjects
which things on the list were true, and they were pretty good at separating
myth from fact. But when they tested everyone else 3 days later, that group made a lot of mistakes. Specifically, they recalled a lot of the “false”
statements as “true” — but not the other way around. Psychologists think that’s because we use
how familiar something is as a guide to whether it’s true. And all you need to do to make something familiar
is to repeat it. This effect doesn’t seem to always happen when people’s false beliefs are corrected. Some studies have failed to find a backfire
effect, especially when the topic was political. But pointing out exactly how wrong your Facebook
friend is often involves repeating their false beliefs. And when you do that, it’s possible that
the backfire effect just makes them more sure they’re right. Another challenge is that we all suffer from
confirmation bias: we can look at the same evidence but come
to different conclusions based on what we believe is true. If evidence confirms what you already believe, it jumps out at you and you pay attention
to it. Meanwhile, we tend to gloss over contradictory
evidence and just forget about it. A 2013 study with more than a thousand participants showed this with political beliefs. People were shown the results of a fictional
study about gun violence, and were asked whether the evidence supported
gun control. But since the study was made up, the researchers
made two versions— one in which the data were in support of control
measures, and another where the data were flipped. When people were then asked whether the study
they read supported gun control, the data barely made
a difference. If the person supported gun control, they
thought the data did, too, and vice versa. Ironically, the researchers found that being
better at math made this effect worse. You’d think people with better math skills
would be more likely to interpret the data objectively, but instead, they tended to recalculate the information
in their heads in a way that justified their existing belief. So even if you’ve got some super-solid evidence
in support of your position, showing it to those who disagree might actually lead them to the opposite conclusion. But if, despite all of this, you still find
yourself thinking that you just have to try to change someone’s
mind because dangit, they are wrong on the internet, there is some
good news: There’s also research on what might work. One group of researchers analyzed a whopping
12,000 arguments on a subreddit forum called “ChangeMyView”
to see what the arguments that successfully changed people’s minds had
in common. They found the most effective tactic was to
pick wording that was unlike that of the other side, maybe because
unfamiliar wording was a sign that the arguments were new information. Like, if someone’s arguing that Kirk was
the best starfleet captain because he led with his gut instinct, pointing out all the times Kirk’s instincts
have put the crew in danger might not be that effective. Instead, you might have more success arguing
that Picard always opted for the peaceful solution. That kind of shift in language is more likely
to change the person’s mind, whereas using really similar wording—
especially quoting them directly— is seen as nit-picking. The researchers also found that when the original
poster used the word “we” instead of “I” to describe
their position, the arguments were less likely to change their
minds— probably because they were more entrenched
in their viewpoint. And if the debate went back and forth more
than 4 times, it wasn’t likely to go anywhere. So if you’re still arguing on that thread
from weeks ago, you might just wanna walk away. Even with the more successful tactics, though, very few people were convinced to change their
minds. And a lot of people are going to this forum because they say they’re open to change! So no matter how strong your arguments are, it’s probably worth picking your battles. Don’t get too discouraged when you can’t
change the other person’s mind— we’re just wired that way. And remember: all of this applies to you,
too. So every once in a while, you might want to
stop and reevaluate the positions that get you so fired up. Because some of those arguments might not
be as strong as you think they are. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych! Feel free to leave your arguments in support
of Sisko or Janeway in the comments. And if you want to learn more about how you
might have formed those opinions that you’re so intent
on arguing about, you can check out our episode on how your
friends can affect your opinions. [OUTRO ♪]

Danny Hutson

100 thoughts on “Why You Can’t Win an Internet Argument

  1. Interesting points. I often wonder about people who think everyone should agree on everything. Wouldn't be that be rather boring?

  2. Sometimes I just discuss with people just because im bored, the stronger they stick to their opinion the funnier it gets :p

  3. While I agree with your positions on captains in the Star Trek franchise, I must offer the following observation: Gildling biands blot gollys timp de gonna joop intalla (using unfamiliar language in an attempt to change your mind).

  4. This video made me more entrenched in my strong belief that I CAN change people's minds using internet forums and comments! SO wrong SciShow! …….just kidding, great video, thank you! 😉

  5. A friend Said that the sun was the biggest star impossible to win the argument that it is not true is impossible Now i know now🤣

  6. I've found that I have managed to change people's minds way more online when it was on more private or very few people discussions rather than on more public places like Twitter and social media. Perhaps is because people try to fight for their perception to others and are way more focused on being right and proving the other wrong than to explore their ideas more? I mean I have had my mind changed on both more public and more private venues, but just guessing here.

  7. This makes me annoyed about myself 😂😂 what if someone tries to change my mind (for the better, I just don't know that) and I keep saying they're wrong and I'm right, I'll never find out the real truth…

  8. I wonder if anyone has be able to do a study on how effective two people public arguements are at changing a third parties mind. Wonder if it would be more effective since that person, while holding the same views , isn't being directly "attacked"

  9. How DARE you suggest i might be wrong sometimes, lady. That wont do. You'll be hearing from my lawyers. See you in the courtroom.

  10. My Grandma still believes colds are caused by the cold, not an infection… How to use this to make her see reason…. Hm.

    Probably can't. Old folk like her end up stuck in old ways and beliefs.

  11. Honestly the reason why people on the internet argue has nothing to do with the argument itself, it's about the people in the argument trying to prove they're "right."

  12. I've always found it helpful to respect the other person's viewpoint and then state your own with some facts on how you reached it. It doesn't always change their mind but it does help stop arguments. Keeping emotions out of it also helps. The other person can't hurt your pride if you don't let your pride get involved.

  13. Wait, so familiar things sound more true, but if you say something that sounds familiar the other person will hear their "truth" instead of what you're actually saying?

  14. People don't change their minds. That's why I think politics are a waste of time and energy…
    Someone's probably gonna disagree with me.

  15. JANEWAY all the time every time!! Also I read somewhere that if you acknowledge part of what they are saying and demonstrate interest in understanding their point of view you are more likely to be heard.

  16. Are there any similar studies that take a look at the reaction on a 3rd-party person?
    i.e.: What works best for one of the two debaters to convince the audience?

  17. I knew that my tendency to word things unconventionally would work out to my advantage one of these days. Either that, or nobody would understand me very well.

  18. Sisko is too chaotic and Janeway too militant. Picard all the way! It has nothing to do with me growing up with TNG 😉

  19. Thank you! She explained the part of the problem with Facebook with people posting their political memes. What answer are you expecting from random strangers? However, the fight between a right winger and left winger on a political meme is very entertaining.

  20. You'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I find it's much, much less difficult to shift people's mindsets by first giving all of your statements relatable, friendly, and empathetic overtones. You must first let them know that you are on their side.. and trust me, you are. You are always on humanity's side (Yes even you) and the whole point of an argument is to help humanity get further by spreading correct information to our fellow humans, while stopping the spread of disinformation that could harm society and hender advancements in the long run.

    It also helps to add in witty, and impeccably written light-hearted humor into the mix to make sure your fellow human does not tense up and resist your words at any point, otherwise all is lost until they calm back down. Remember: The whole reason you're speaking is because you both want to communicate and communication is a psychological tool that was invented to avoid fights, not start them. Fists are for fighting, words are for communicating. If you think words are for fighting, then it means you don't know how to fight or communicate properly.

  21. I don't really think i need scientists to tell me we are all emotion driven idiots that cling on their beliefs no matter what.

  22. I like cod ghost! I have a opinion come at me! Give me all you got! How dare I have a opinion

  23. Sisko! (Ironically, because Picard is my favorite standard-trek-format captain, and Sisko HATES him for Wolf 359.)

  24. It's not my responsibility to manage other peoples' beliefs. If they want to improve their beliefs they are free to pick up a good book. Viewing it this way prevents me from wasting a lot of time and effort.

  25. No it doesn’t apply to me too. I’m always right on the Internet. It’s all these other people who are wrong and just don’t see it. swallows pills Oh, I see what you’re saying…

  26. My favorite Star Fleet captain is Spock. I loved his cold, logical analysis of all the predicaments he found himself in. He was promoted to captain in "The Wrath of Khan". He may have been half human but culturally he was pure Vulcan.

  27. I don’t think people should argue online period. Like, you’re literally arguing with a person/people who you’ve NEVER met before in your life. It’s honestly just so stupid and pointless. You have better things to do than sitting on your PC for 3 hours and try to “win” an argument with a stranger.

  28. 4 big points to consider.
    1. Becareful who you marry
    2. Men and women's brain are different. So arguments are inevitable.
    3. We are all screwed the older we get…
    4. Can't win a religious argument

  29. The problem is that sometimes those who hold incorrect beliefs gang up on one person who holds the correct one, and the mere thought that "Others think so too, therefore I cannot be wrong" reinforces the wrong belief.

  30. When I really pay attention, I realize that tons of little things in my life prove I don't have any tendency towards confirmation bias.

  31. You can totally win an argument on the internet! Favorite story on this: I posted something about climate change on the Facebook a few years back. It wasn't even antagonistic, just a factual update kind of thing. This guy I know, climate change denier, decided to comment on how it was all lies and made up crap. We've been in many arguments over the years on subjects, but this one he was not prepared for. I didn't really counter his comments at all. I just left him a few thousand word dictation (a polite one, FYI) on the science and history of thermodynamics and radiative heat transfer and how this science directly applies to the study of climate and environmental trends. He did not respond and has not commented on a climate change post I have shared since. I have a degree focused on heat transfer and fluid flow and used to teach college level science. It's not that he brought a knife to a gunfight, more of a cap-gun to a blitzkrieg. Anyway, that's my fun internet argument story.

  32. They had to make up two versions of a study to get around the reality that facts tend to have a well-known liberal bias.

  33. I like talking/debating taboo or controversial topics. I realize that I'm unlikely to change the person I'm talking to's mind, but I like being challenged on my beliefs, and arguing (in an honest manner) forces you to actually use your brain, and be self reflective, etc… And I think it's great.

  34. Thank you YouTube for recommending this to me, I recently had a argument with a family member, and even acknowledging their right points, they refused to give me the sane leeway and were a bit of an ass about it, refusing what to me was basic fact. So regardless who was right, this has bugged me for a while now (I've been lucky to avoid most things like this before which doesn't help) and I haven't been able to let go of much of my anger and irritation over it the past few days, even knowing there's probably nothing I could have changed. This is more helpful than anything I've come across for this subject, and I think it'll help me actually…. Let go of it, even if it wasn't over the internet. Just learn to let them be and not get stuck thinking about what I could have done differently to make them see my point. Neither of us will probably see differently, it's too important to us, but KNOWING it, from brain science? That… Kinda helps. So thank you.

  35. there is no truth. we are all just guessing. we compete for the strongest guesses or to reinforce the most repated ones. our brains works by relating somthing similar to somthing similar and so on to a target example. we observe patterns in a certain arangement and then try to recall these patterns based on self similarity but emotions can rearange the pattern and change the meaning of the memory.

    absolute truth does not exist. people like to beleive in absolute truth even whats on the news is clearly biased and scripted. its easy to believe in absolute reality contrary to potential reality based on probability. absolute reality give people comfort and security, even it may not be probable. when we discover somthing that challange what we previosuly beleived to be true, we either discard this new information as fake or we discard what we already know as fake, but usually it takes a lots of wrong with what we already know to discard what we already know as false. usually we reinforce what we already know as truth when presented with new theories that challanges our current belief system. that is why religion reinforce itself as easly as the faith in absolute truth of the media like news. nobody can have a record in their head of absolute truths because our brains aren't made that way. we have messy brain circuits heavly influenced by emotions.

  36. I'm not in the academia, but my research skills have become very useful in internet debates. Also, I've become even more acquainted with science journals. My arguments always have references. Now, the annoying debates come in when the topic is other than science. Literature and the humanties are just difficult to defend. And I'm a writing major, so it's extra frustrating.

  37. Sometimes when I argue with someone in comments and they just dont write back after some messages I fell like they are acared to respond xD

  38. Another thing to remember is a lot of people on the internet are paid trolls. Companies will pay people just to start internet arguments.

  39. Quote from Ben Goldacre, Bad Science, ' You cannot reason people out of positions they didn't reason themselves into.' This is a great book.

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