Reality is based on facts. They used to be that way.
In an environment marked by deep political divisions, heightened social tensions, and a lot of misinformation, facts are not as certain as they used to be.
Researchers say that using 'facts' to support a moral or political argument is no longer a good idea because of how we now perceive them.
If you really want to change someone's mind on a serious topic, you should tell them about your own experiences.
The team led by first author and social psychologist Emily Kubin from the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany found that political opponents respect moral beliefs more when they are supported by personal experiences.
Sharing subjective experiences, not facts, is the best way toFurnishing perceptions of truth within moral disagreements.
Going back to the Enlightenment and its promotion of rationality, relying on facts to convince those with opposing beliefs to our own has been done. It used to be a good idea to ground your argument in facts in order to win over opponents.
Rationality has not gone out of style, but it has become harder to use facts in a debate due to the fractured nature of the political spectrum.
In concrete cases, the effectiveness of facts is unclear. Facts are subject to doubt, especially when they conflict with our political beliefs.
It might seem like a contradiction, but if I share my own subjective experience in place of objective facts, I can get back to perceived rationality and respect in a political or moral debate.
The team measured and compared fact-based or experience-based strategies to see if they made moral or political viewpoints more rational.
Across experiments about issues such as gun control, coal mining, and abortion, the researchers found that arguments expressing relevant personal experiences won out over fact-based strategies.
The authors explained that because personal experiences are seen as truer than facts, they give the appearance of rationality in opponents.
First-hand suffering may be immune to doubt, because personal experiences are unimpugnable.
Stories of personal harm or suffering were the most compelling among personal experiences.
When the study was published, senior researcher and social psychologist Kurt Gray from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said to invite someone to see you as a rational, feeling human being
People need to talk about their vulnerabilities.
The researchers acknowledge that the most productive conversations between people with opposing viewpoints could involve a combination of both personal experiences and facts. More than one tactic is often required to change minds according to some researchers.
The authors speculated that personal experiences could be used early in the conversation to build a foundation of mutual respect and then facts could be introduced as the conversation moves to policy specifics.
The researchers acknowledge their work still leaves many questions unanswered, but they say their results might show a way to bridge moral divides in a society that has sadly become a very fragmented 'post-truth' society.
Gray hopes that people will take the results and hopefully have more respectful conversations in an era of extreme polarization.
The findings were reported in a journal.
The first version of this article was published in February of 2020.