How to Change Your Mind
There are a lot of barriers to changing your mind: ego, overconfidence, inertia — and cost. Politicians who flip-flop get mocked; family and friends who cross tribal borders are shunned. But shouldn’t we be encouraging people to change their minds? And how can we get better at it ourselves?
Here’s an interesting fact: legislators in several Republican-controlled states are pushing to eliminate the death penalty. Why is that interesting? Because most Republicans have typically been in favor of the death penalty. They’ve said it’s a deterrent against the most horrific crimes and a fitting penalty when such crimes do occur.
But a lot of Republicans have come to believe the death penalty does not deter crime — which happens to be an argument we offered evidence for in Freakonomics. They also say the lengthy legal appeals on death-penalty cases are too costly for taxpayers. Some Republicans also cite moral concerns with the death penalty. So, a lot of them have changed their minds.
We’ve all changed our minds at some point, about something. Maybe you were a cat person and became a dog person. Maybe you decided the place you lived, or the person you loved, or the religion you followed just wasn’t working for you anymore. But changing your mind is rarely easy. Although if you’re like most people, you would very much like other people to change their minds, to think more like you. Because, as you see it, it’s impossible for the world to progress, to improve unless some people are willing to change their minds.
On this week’s episode of Freakonomics Radio: how to change minds, or at least try to.
Robert Sapolsky is a professor of neuroscience at Stanford University. He describes himself as half-neurobiologist and half-primatologist; he studies both neurons in petri dishes and wild baboons in East Africa. Sapolsky has a lot of experience with changing his mind. He was raised as an Orthodox Jew before he decided, at age 14, that “[t]here’s no God, there’s no free will, there is no purpose.” He used to be a classical music snob; then he married a…