How Minds Change by David McRaney review

A fascinating exploration of how beliefs are formed ends up asking whether it’s always right to want to win the argument

This book is bad news for anyone who thinks we should use facts and evidence to change people’s minds. It is disappointing for lovers of debate. It reveals the psychological and evolutionary reasons why all humans are certain we are right, and why “certainty” is nothing but an illusion. But it’s an optimistic, illuminating and even inspiring read. Because while you can’t talk someone into changing their mind, you just might be able to listen them into it, and David McRaney thinks he can show you how.

McRaney, the bestselling author of You Are Not So Smart, is fascinated by the intersection of brains, minds and culture, and in this book he takes a tour through politics and fashion, social media, psychology and human evolution, to understand “the new science of belief, opinion and persuasion”. He talks to Charlie Veitch, a well-known 9/11 conspiracy theorist who was demonised by his online community after announcing that he had changed his views. He meets young people who have left the extremist Westboro Baptist church, and interviews a psychologist who is so passionate about promoting progressive conversations that she created “an Uncle Bot, a simple AI to stand in for an argumentative relative”. He even holds in his hands The Dress – the one in the viral photo that half of people see as white and gold, half as blue and black – and learns how our brains add information based on past experience to fill in knowledge gaps and convince us that the result is the only possible version of reality.

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