Think Like A Freak: How To Persuade People

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A drawing of Freakonomics hosts Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, hosts of the Freakonomics podcast and authors of Think Like A Freak, talk about ways to retrain your brain and challenge how you think. Today: how to persuade people who don't want to be persuaded, and why logic and facts are no match for ideology.


Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt

Comments [10]

Amy from Manhattan

Jessie, I appreciate what you're saying. I'm reading Freakonomics, & the abortion/crime correlation is 1 of the things I have a problem with. They never draw a causal connection btwn. them. Some people have said it had to do w/the outlawing of lead in gasoline, & they make at least as good a case for that.

May. 14 2014 12:09 PM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

I know you're sincere, but you also seem to sincerely never consider the complex developmental way nature produces change in "how things work". It's a matter of systems reorganizing... I sincerely think people stopped objecting to the strange "cause and effect" idea that a data *correlation* between the abortion rights decision and a change in crime when children of that age matured, is that the people complaining so vociferously just gave up on you. You weren't talking to them about the world THEY live in, and how they change in the organization of how things work, indeed, changes si dramatically.

Think about all the great social and economic changes taking place around the the abortion rights decision, and compare that to how your reasoning gives zero credit to our whole world changing around the court decision. Those waves of societal change didn't stop there either. There was a *vast* societal transformation taking place, of our whole society learning to care about people and pay attention to their lives and circumstances in a quite new way.

In almost everyone's life there's even a personal story about that, "the time I started paying attention" when it was "revealed" to them "what is really going on". You even told that story about your own experience this morning, in fact. You remarked on the revelation that being a consultant is not about speaking for your own interests, but essentially speaking as a fiduciary for someone else's.

What usually call these stories of transformative "life change" is "consciousness raising". The experience is indeed pivotal in everyone's life who has it, the time when they started to notice the true focus of events around them, like discovering that the earth revolves around the sun not the reverse, like our data seems to say. That's when we begin to see the real sweep of events we are all immersed in, a world changing how it works every day.

There's a trick you can use, a way to train your reasoning of statistics from pointing out "curious correlations", to pointing out "centers of organization", using the math to identify the "curious continuities" instead, from which to pick up on the real forces shaping our dramatically changing world...

May. 14 2014 11:17 AM
Judy from Long Island

I have found that a prerequisite for influencing anyone is first listening to them. Similarly, I am seldom persuaded of anything by anyone who isn't smart enough to listen to me, first. Why would I?

Alas, listening is hard work, and people do less and less of it all the time. (Look how many people would rather text than have a phone conversation when given the choice!)

May. 14 2014 11:13 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The argument is that a wanted child will do better and be less likely to commit crime. Great. 'There should be no unwanted children. If you don't want your child, give him or her to me.' Mother Teresa.

But we've had abortion now for 40 years, and crime is down (if we don't count abortion itself), but have you looked at the state of the family? And all the other social indicators? They are a disaster.

Abortion cheapens children, obviously, and leaves living children treated badly or treated abnormally out of compensation.

May. 14 2014 10:58 AM
Amy from Manhattan

The example I meant to give when I called in was when I was on a jury & 1 of the lawyers seemed to assume that the jurors would share his viewpoint when he rolled his eyes at a witness's testimony or said what amounted to "Oh, come on!" Those aren't arguments. If we already had the same point of view he did, we shouldn't have been selected for the jury.

The example I didn't think of while I was on the show was a neighbor who looked down on people who received welfare. From what she said, her thinking was, "I wouldn't take welfare unless I had no self-respect; therefore, anyone who takes welfare must have no self-respect."

May. 14 2014 10:53 AM
Ed from Larchmont

One central problem is that reason and argument isn't listened to: one makes an argument for something. And the other person says 'I just disagree', in spite of the reasoning. It takes an act of will also.

May. 14 2014 10:48 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The point though is that right after 1973 in New York crime exploded - abortion is crime, and the atmosphere of crime increased, New York almost went bankcrupt.

May. 14 2014 10:46 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Of course abortion decreased crime - there were less of everyone, criminals included.

May. 14 2014 10:45 AM

After years of arguing with a business partner, I learned that post argument reflection was always required. He could never be persuaded in the moment.

May. 14 2014 10:39 AM
Francis from Greenpoint

I've found that people typically won't be persuaded during a conversation, but instead, their view changes over time as a result of hearing the same points over and over again.

May. 14 2014 10:31 AM

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