The Quick Report

Psychologist Explains the Most Effective Way to Change Someone’s Mind

It seems like people are more opinionated and divided than ever. Can you change the mind of someone who already has their “mind made up?” Psychologists say: ‘Yes.’ The secret of how to change someone’s mind lies in framing things metaphorically.

Frames Work Better Than Facts

When we’re trying to get someone to change their point of view, we often think that once we give them the facts, that will do the trick.

However, experiments by researchers at the University of California in San Diego (UCSD) found that facts are not the compelling factor. Their experiments showed that people draw conclusions from how an idea is framed rather than from the facts used to support it.

Winning Hearts and Minds

We’ve all heard the term “winning hearts and minds.” What that means is there is a strong connection between emotions and facts. Either one on its own may not be sufficient enough to garner someone’s support or commitment. However, when the two work in concert, it tends to have the strongest effect.

The experiments by the UCSD researchers seemed to reinforce this concept. Framing an idea with metaphorical words wins hearts and minds. While framing an idea with literal words may win minds, but not hearts.

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How to Frame Ideas Metaphorically

When we talk about framing an idea metaphorically, we are referring to using words as a metaphor in place of explicit language.

For example, if we were talking about a football game, we might say: “The Packers destroyed the Vikings.” We are using “destroyed” instead of saying the Packers won the game by a large score. This of course is hyperbole, because we aren’t actually implying destruction.

Pitfalls to Avoid With Metaphors

The above example identifies a problem with using metaphors in our speech — exaggeration. This can be very problematic when you are trying to use metaphors to change someone’s mind.


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For example, in one experiment, the UCSD researchers compared the use of the words “battle” and “journey” when referring to the efforts of cancer patients to cope with the unpleasantness of treatment. They found that the use of the word “battle” was more likely to make patients feel guilty if they didn’t recover. By comparison, the use of the word “journey” helps them feel they can make peace with their illness.

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Metaphors That Persuade

Researchers found that when ideas were framed with metaphors that have connotations of positivity they were more persuasive.

For example, when an outcome was characterized as a “gain” versus a “loss.” Such metaphors not only sway people’s opinions, but they also can reverse them. The research found this to be true even when the facts were exactly the same.

Using Metaphors for Growth

In another experiment at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, researchers investigated entirely different kinds of metaphors. Their focus was on how framing arguments using metaphors could affect people’s motivation.

Specifically, they wanted to know whether people who were striving to achieve a goal would stay motivated after its achievement. To examine this, they framed the idea as either contributing to a “journey” or a “destination,” Psychology Today reported.

The study involved 1,600 people participating in six experiments. The research involved Stanford students, African executives completing business education, dieters in a food program, and exercisers in a walking program.

According to the results, and across the groups, the people who were guided by the “journey” frame were found to be more motivated to continue in their goal-oriented behavior after achieving their initial goal.

By contrast, the people who were guided by the “destination” frame, focused only on winning just in the motion.

The “journey” frame had people focusing on the process, while the “destination” frame focused people only on the outcome. The takeaway here is how powerful a frame can be. Think about the mindset of someone who sees a lifetime of striving as “a journey.”

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Negative Frames

In yet another experiment at UCSD, researchers had people read a single paragraph. The topic was about how immigrant labor was changing the economy in a fictional town. There were four versions of the paragraph. One of those referred to the immigrant flow as a “boost.” Another referred to the immigration as an “invasion.”

People were asked to rate the economic impact on the fictional town using a score between 1-10. One represented very negative and 10 very positive. People who caught the “invasion” frame gave much lower ratings. Surprisingly, even when people could not remember which word was used to frame their paragraph, the outcomes were the same.

Think about how different media outlets use different words to describe the same event, framing it with different metaphors, and influencing perceptions.

Key Takeaways

The takeaway from all the various studies is that metaphors have unrivaled power when it comes to communicating ideas.

Because metaphors have so much power, they require us to think deeply about any metaphors we choose to use. Metaphors have many connotations. We can inadvertently make the wrong implication or mix our metaphors and confuse people.

Other Factors That Contribute to Changing Minds

Experts say the following research-backed strategies can also contribute to changing someone’s mind.

  1. Start calm and maintain that state.
  2. Utilize empathy.
  3. Identify common ground.
  4. Tell stories (similes and metaphors), not just facts.
  5. Introduce and allow for introspection.
  6. Recognize when it’s time to take a break.
  7. Set boundaries if you’re making your case online.
  8. Maintain a degree of detachment from the outcome.

Research shows that metaphors are much more persuasive than facts. Metaphors create mind pictures and that activates emotions. The key is to activate positive emotions through metaphors and complement them with beneficial facts. This combination creates the kind of leverage it takes to persuade or change minds.