Do Facts Matter?

I heard a podcast on a road trip to my daughter’s ringette tournament in Waterloo this weekend that resonated. The podcast is an NPR product called ‘The Hidden Brain‘ and the topic of the December 25 cast is how facts are often not compelling to people. We humans seem to need a little emotion to find something compelling; a particularly relevant idea given contemporary US politics, and I often find myself in situations in professional life where I need to convince people of something, and I’ve often wondered why the facts aren’t changing peoples minds in certain situations.

In the podcast, host Shankar Vedantam used examples like Donald Trump talking about the ineffectiveness of vaccines, or why people have trouble buying into climate change to show how emotional appeals are often more compelling than factual arguments.

Research has shown that sending out new information doesn’t usually change people’s minds by itself. Host Ravi asked how, then, can we convince people of things. He says fear is a good motivator for inaction, while hope is the best motivator for action. In an illustration of this concept; a camera was used to monitor how many times staff washed their hands upon entering or leaving a patient room. With just the camera in place, staff only washed their hands 1 in 10 times. With a message that congratulated staff for washing hands, the rate of compliance increased dramatically. Fear didn’t spur anyone to action in this situation, but the emotional appeal of being congratulated did.