The Backfire Effect: why you can't win that argument

Duty Calls (Someone is wrong on the Internet)Why do so many bloggers, myself included, persist in trying to win arguments even when it should be obvious that we are getting nowhere?

I remember this cartoon from some years ago. I was happy to come across it again, shared by a Facebook friend, in a post Why You Can’t Win That Argument on the Internet by Adam Dachis, which links to an article The Backfire Effect by David McRaney.

McRaney’s point is a simple one:

The Misconception: When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.

The Truth: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.

He supports his claims about this Backfire Effect with evidence from a scientific study. Apparently this happens “instinctively and unconsciously”.

This is why hardcore doubters who believe Barack Obama was not born in the United States will never be satisfied with any amount of evidence put forth suggesting otherwise.

When arguments like this happen on the Internet, this is the result:

Most online battles follow a similar pattern, each side launching attacks and pulling evidence from deep inside the web to back up their positions until, out of frustration, one party resorts to an all-out ad hominem nuclear strike. …

What should be evident from the studies on the backfire effect is you can never win an argument online.

Sounds familiar? Dachis summarises the argument as

McRaney points to several studies showing how people are willing to completely ignore scientific proof that their beliefs are wrong.

How much more true this is, whether the proof is scientific or biblical, when the beliefs are part of their Christian faith!

0 thoughts on “The Backfire Effect: why you can't win that argument

  1. I have to admit that I have become increasingly depressed about what passes for ‘reasoned debate’ on christian blogs. Very few seem to attract people who know how to frame an argument without resorting to vacuous assertions, personal attacks and vituperative and sneering prose let alone going off on a tangent. I think much of this is to to with personal pride. Many appear to feel that their pride is wounded if someone disagrees with them. It is odd that some people will say things on a blog that they would not dream of saying to an individual personally

    I visits blogs to find out more about things I am interested in and perhaps subject a few ideas of my own to scrutiny, but I am finding that the standard of debate in the christian blogosphere has deterioated with time and wonder if it is really worth the effort any more.

    Not with this blog I might add…

  2. I tend to shy away, almost immediately, from those who plainly state that no matter what, they have it all figured out. It is pointless then.

  3. Sometimes it maybe better to plant the seed then back off in a concillatory way, people do not like to admit error and the more we tell them that they are wrong, the more entrenched they become, as stated above.
    However some people can be ‘reflectors’, and take away our gentle prodding of their concepts and ideas, and, without winning or losing, their views change.

  4. Thank you, Don. That’s good advice. That’s partly why I keep going with posts about the errors of Calvinism, Rapture theology etc. I’m not usually telling individuals they are wrong. But I am giving them things to think about, so that if they are uncertain they may be nudged gently in what I think is the right direction.

  5. Pingback: Addicted to Arguing? How to win! - Gentle Wisdom

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