Why we will never convince people to wear a mask, or…

…to get informed before casting a vote or that science makes sense, or…

If you are tired of trying to convince your family members, colleagues or friends that they are misinformed or you are tired of rolling your eyes at people avoiding common-sense, read on.

Research shows that some people have a higher “need for cognitive closure” than others (meaning, they do not want any open issues that they might have to spend mental energy thinking about). This need drives people to find and cling to an answer, any answer really, that will provide closure to a question or problem.

To you, their approach may look simplistic or unrealistic and it may become a source of concern or conflict.  But challenging or showing evidence to contradict their views will not change their strong feelings about their views; it might even strengthen it.

Other characteristics associated with people who have a high need for certainty and cognitive closure:

  • Low willingness to put in the mental effort to see another view.
  • Only associating with people of like mind; in other words, they form a bubble of friends and sources of information.
  • Reliance on stereotypes and prejudices.

This is just how some of the brain’s programming works.

It might be helpful to know that this programming often comes from childhood experiences of instability due to inconsistent parenting or a traumatic environment – it’s learned early and is deeply embedded.

So, when you encounter someone who feels that wearing a mask isn’t necessary, or who tends towards conspiracy theories, remember that you are not going to change their mind by showing them facts, or inviting them to see the complexity of the problem. That is just not going to work. Confronting them will only strengthen their resolve.

It will be more productive to try and understand, build safety and trust over time. It can be hard to listen to something that feels like nonsense to you, but if you wish to have some influence, you need to be in it for the long-haul. You may need to work on your own resilience and ability to stay.

This article about deprogramming people, suggests engaging respectfully and reminding your loved ones about who they were before their recent beliefs set in. These suggestions were offered by an expert on de-programming cult members. He says the best people to do this work are friends and family members, so don’t abandon them.

Tips from this Forbes article on persuasion may be helpful – but remember that if people are really dug in, influencing needs to happen in slow-motion.