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Minds are exceedingly hard to change. Ask any advertiser who has tried to convince consumers to switch brands, any CEO who has tried to change a company's culture, or any individual who has tried to heal a rift with a friend. So many aspects of life are oriented toward changing minds-yet this phenomenon is among the least understood of familiar human experiences.
Now, eminent Harvard...
Minds are exceedingly hard to change. Ask any advertiser who has tried to convince consumers to switch brands, any CEO who has tried to change a company's culture, or any individual who has tried to heal a rift with a friend. So many aspects of life are oriented toward changing minds-yet this phenomenon is among the least understood of familiar human experiences.
Now, eminent Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, whose work has revolutionized our beliefs about intelligence, creativity, and leadership, offers an original framework for understanding exactly what happens during the course of changing a mind-and how to influence that process.
Drawing on decades of cognitive research and compelling case studies-from famous business and political leaders to renowned intellectuals and artists to ordinary individuals-Gardner identifies seven powerful factors that impel or thwart significant shifts from one way of thinking to a dramatically new one.
Whether we are attempting to change the mind of a nation or a corporation, our spouse's mind or our own, this book provides insights that can broaden our horizons and improve our lives.
Gardner's research and insights in Changing Minds focus on situations in which a person abandons the way he or she thought of an important issue, and now thinks of that issue in a dramatically new way. Gardner writes about changes that are made consciously, as a result of identifiable forces (rather than as a result of manipulation), and also focuses on changes of mind that result in a behavior change.
According to Gardner, to change someone's mind, you must produce a shift in that person's "mental representations" - the particular ways in which that person perceives, codes, retains and accesses information.
The Seven Levers
Throughout Changing Minds, Gardner describes seven factors - or levers - that can be used by anyone to successfully change a mind:
The Six Arenas
Changing Minds examines in detail how the seven levers are used in the six realms - or arenas - in which changes of mind take place. The six arenas he describes are:
Why We Like This Book
Changing Minds offers an astute perspective on the issue of influence over others and over oneself. Not only are Gardner's insights into this fascinating topic enlightening and compelling, Changing Minds is also written in understandable terms and an easy-to-comprehend style. Full of relevant case studies and intriguing stories from modern history as well as Gardner's own personal life, Changing Minds reveals useful tips and tactics that can help anyone understand the cognitive functions of the mind, and use those strategies in negotiations and situations where changes of mind are beneficial.
2 The Forms of the Mind
3 The Power of Early Theories
Leading a Diverse Population
5 Leading an Institution: How to Deal with a Uniform Population
6 The Creative Geniuses Change Minds Indirectly-Through Science, Scholarly Breakthroughs, and Works of Art
7 Mind Changing in a Formal Setting
8 Mind Changing Up Close
9 Changing One's Own Mind
10 Epilogue: The Future of Mind Changing
About the Author
We talk all the time about changing minds. The meaning of this exceedingly common metaphor seems clear enough: We have a mind set in one direction, some operation is performed, and?lo and behold?the mind is now set in another direction. Yet clear as this figure of speech may seem on superficial consideration, the phenomenon of changing minds is one of the least examined and?I would claim?least understood of familiar human experiences.
What happens when we change our minds? And what exactly does it take for a person to change her mind and begin to act on the basis of this shift? These questions have engaged my own curiosity: I have thought about them as a psychological researcher, while realizing that some aspects of mind changing are likely to remain an art for the foreseeable future. I present my own answers in the pages that follow.
Minds, of course, are hard to change. Yet so many aspects of our lives are oriented toward doing just that?convincing a colleague to approach a task in a new way, trying to eradicate one of our own prejudices. Some of us, even, are involved professionally in the business of changing people?s minds: the therapist who affects his patient?s self-concept; the teacher who introduces students to new ways of thinking about a familiar topic; the salesperson or advertiser who convinces consumers to switch brands. Leaders almost by definition are people who change minds?be they leaders of a nation, a corporation, or a nonprofit institution. Certainly, then, rather than taking the phenomenon of mind changing for granted, we can benefit from a better understanding of its many fascinating puzzles?of what, exactly, happens when a mind shifts from a seemingly intractable state to a radically different viewpoint.
At the outset let me state what I mean?and do not mean?when I use the expression ?changing minds.? To begin with, I am speaking about significant changes of mind. In a trivial sense, our minds change every moment that we are awake and, in all probability, while we are dozing or sleeping as well. Even when we grow senile, our minds are changing, though not in ways that are desirable. I shall reserve the phrase ?changing minds? for the situation where individuals or groups abandon the way in which they have customarily thought about an issue of importance and henceforth conceive of it in a new way. So if I decide to read the sections of the newspaper in a different order, or to lunch at noon rather than at one o?clock, these do not qualify as significant changes of mind. If, on the other hand, I have always voted the straight Democratic ticket and decide that from now on I will actively campaign for the Libertarian Party; or if I decide to drop out of law school in order to become a pianist at a bar, I would consider these to be significant changes of mind. (Granted, there is always the odd bird for whom switching lunch time represents a bigger shift than changing careers.) The same contrast obtains when someone else is the agent of change?the person who brings about a mental shift. A teacher who decides to give tests on Thursday rather than Friday and who thereby affects my weekly study calendar is bringing about at most a modest change in my mind. But a teacher who turns me on to learning, and thereby stimulates me to continue pursuing a topic even after the course is over, has affected my mind more substantially.
I focus on changes of mind that occur consciously, typically as a result of forces that can be identified (rather than through subtle manipulation). I survey an ensemble of agents who sought to bring about a change of mind and who did so in a straightforward and transparent manner. My examples include political leaders like Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who altered the direction of Great Britain in the 1980s; business leaders like John Browne, now Lord Browne, who changed the operations of the British oil giant BP in the 1990s; the biologist Charles Darwin, who transformed the way in which scientists (and, eventually, laypersons) think about human origins; the spy Whittaker Chambers, whose own tumultuous changes of mind altered the political landscape of the United States in the early 1950s; and less well-known school teachers, family members, professional colleagues, therapists, and lovers who changed the minds of those around them.
My focus falls primarily on agents who succeed in changing minds, but I will also consider failed efforts by political leaders, business leaders, intellectuals, and other aspiring mind-changers. Except incidentally, I am not going to treat changes that occur through compulsion, nor changes that come about as a result of deception or manipulation. I introduce seven factors?ranging from reason to resistance?that operate either individually or jointly to bring about or thwart significant changes of mind; and I show how they work in a variety of specific cases. I am of course aware that changes do not always occur because of the intentions of the change agents or the desires of the person whose mind has been changed; some effects will be indirect or subtle or long-term or unintended or even perverse.
Often artists are the first to scout out terrain that is eventually explored in a more explicit way by scholars. As it happens, the novelist and essayist Nicholson Baker presents a charming example of mind change and?more revealingly?offers a thoughtful intuitive account of how such mind changing may come about.1 Baker recalls a bus trip that he took from New York City to upstate Rochester. The co-occurrence of two events on that trip stimulated Baker to ruminate about the process of mind changing.
First of all, at a scheduled stop en route, the driver of the bus noticed a stray shoe. He asked whether the shoe belonged to anyone. When no customer responded, the bus driver tossed the shoe into a nearby trash can. At a later point on the trip, a rather pathetic-looking passenger asked the driver whether a shoe had been discovered. The driver informed the passenger that he was too late and that the shoe had already been discarded in the vicinity of Binghamton.
Baker contrasts the decisiveness of the shoe tossing with a much more gradual instance of coming to a decision?in fact, a change of his own mind. While on the same bus trip, the writer began to fantasize about how he might furnish an apartment. In particular, he thought about an imaginative way in which to seat people: he would purchase and install rows of yellow forklifts and orange backhoes in his apartment. Visitors could sit either on slings hanging between the forks of the forklifts or on buckets of the kind used in excavating backhoes. Baker had been in the process of calculating how many forklifts a floor would sustain when the hapless passenger inquired in vain about the whereabouts of his shoe.
Baker reflects on what happened in the five years since he had first envisioned this exotic form of furnishing: ?I find that, without my knowledge, I have changed my mind. I no longer want to live in an apartment furnished with forklifts and backhoes. Somewhere I jettisoned that interest as irrevocably as the bus driver tossed out the strange sad man?s right shoe [Baker?s italics]. Yet I did not experience during the intervening time a single uncertainty or pensive moment in regard to a backhoe.?2
Baker proceeds to reflect on the peculiar nature of these gradual changes of mind?such changes as the drifting apart of two friends, a shift in artistic taste, an alteration of political consciousness or persuasion. As he sees it, a mind change most often results from a slow, almost unidentifiable shift of viewpoint rather than by virtue of any single argument or sudden epiphany. Moreover, such so-called jolting insights are usually things we point to only after the fact, becoming stories that we eventually tell ourselves and others to explain our change of mind. He concludes his meditation with a characterization that encompasses just the kinds of mind changes that I am trying to understand: ?I don?t want the story of the feared-but-loved teacher, the book that hit like a thunderclap, the years of severe study followed by a visionary breakdown, the clench of repentance: I want each sequential change of mind in its true, knotted, clotted, viny multifariousness, with all of the colorful streams of intelligence still taped on and flapping in the wind.?3
From a phenomenological point of view, Baker has captured well the experience that all of us have had with respect to two varieties of mind changing: on the one hand, an apparently abrupt decision, like the tossing of a shoe out the window; on the other hand, a decision we come to gradually, perhaps even imperceptibly, over a longer period of time, like a shift in one?s taste. I believe that Baker is correct in asserting that even those changes that erupt dramatically in consciousness often mask subtler processes that have jelled over a lengthy period of time. Still, such cases of personal mind-changing are but a subclass: In many cases, other agents?leaders, teachers, media personalities?play a decisive role in helping to bring about a change of mind, be it sudden or emergent.
All these forms of mind changing call for an explanation. What is enigmatic to the novelist or provocative for the essayist can and should be explicated by the social scientist. In this book, I identify (1) the various agents and agencies of mind change, (2) the tools that they have at their disposal, and (3) the seven factors that help to determine whether they succeed in changing minds. And I seek to show the power of my cognitively based account, as compared to rival rationales: for example, one based on biological factors or one that focuses on cultural or historical factors.
Before we launch into the specific agents and tools that can create a change of mind, let me define what I am talking about when I speak of what happens in the ?mind.? Though both Nicholson Baker and I speak about changing minds, it is clear that what I am writing about (and perhaps what he is writing about as well) ultimately involves changes of
behavior. Changes that occur ?within the mind? may be of academic interest, but if they do not result in present or future changes of behavior, then they are not of interest here.
Why, then, not simply speak of behavior? Why bring the mind into the discussion at all? Because a key to changing a mind is to produce a shift in the individual?s ?mental representations??the particular way in which a person perceives, codes, retains, and accesses information. Here we run smack into the history of psychology?and a way of thinking about the human mind that will allow us to answer the question: What does it take to change a mind?
A century ago, in the earliest days of scientific psychology, researchers relied heavily on self-reports (introspection) and displayed no hesitation in speaking about ideas, thoughts, images, states of consciousness, even the Mind. Unfortunately, human beings are not necessarily accurate observers of their own mental life, and introspective accounts of experience did not satisfy strict scientific standards. As a reaction against this overreliance on personal, Nicholson Baker?style reports, a generation of psychologists decided to eliminate from their fledgling discipline all personal testimony?all reference to mental phenomena. They called instead for an exclusive emphasis on observable behaviors?acts that can be objectively seen, recorded, and quantified. Their approach?which held sway in the United States and some other countries for half a century?was called behaviorism. The tenets (and limits) of behaviorism are well conveyed in an old joke: Two behaviorists make love. The first then says to the second, ?Well, it was great for you. But tell me, how was it for me??
Whatever its virtues, behaviorism died during the second half of the twentieth century. There were various accessories to the fact but the principal executioner was the computer. By the 1950s and 1960s, it had become clear that computers were capable of problem solving of a sophisticated sort. To effect such problem solving, the computers required information?data?on which various operations were then performed in sequence. Often the computers went about computations in ways that appeared similar to those employed by human beings. As evidence accrued that manmade objects could think, it seemed absurd to deny mental activity to those entities?human beings?who built the hardware, created the software, and modeled the processes by which computers operated.
Thus was launched the cognitive revolution.4 This intellectual current swept through a number of disciplines fifty years ago and gave rise to an interdisciplinary field called cognitive science. Rejecting the strictures of behaviorism, cognitive scientists revisit the questions and concepts that were considered fair game during the first years of psychology (and, indeed, in the great philosophies of the past). Cognitivists have no hesitation in speaking about images, ideas, mental operations, and the Mind. In doing so, they rely heavily on the analogy and terminology of the computer age. And so, like mechanical or electrical computing devices, individuals are said to take in information, process it in various ways, and create diverse mental representations. It is possible to describe these mental representations in plain English (or French or Swahili)?as I will often do. But ultimately it is preferable if these mental representations can be described as precisely as the objects and operations of a programming language. Indeed, a new field called cognitive neuroscience posits that one day these mental representations will be explicable in purely physiological terms. We may be able to point to the set of neural connections or networks that represent a particular image, idea, or concept and observe changes thereto directly. And if the future techniques of brain transplants or genetic engineering achieve their potential, we might even be able to change minds by operating directly on the neurons or nucleotides (more on this in the closing chapter of the book).
To pursue the present inquiry I appropriate the language of cognitive science and speak about the ways in which mental representations change, or are changed. Of course, in a modest way our mental representations change all the time. Indeed, you could not have gotten this far in the first chapter if you had not undergone voluntary changes in representation?perhaps changes in the ways in which you understand the history of psychology or think about the common phrase ?changing my mind.? Moreover, unless you read works of social science purely for pleasure, you are presumably plowing through this book in the hope that your mental representations of ?changing minds? will undergo further changes, and that those changes will prove useful to you at home, at the work place, or at your favorite watering hole.
So what is the stuff of mental representations? Let?s start with an
Consider a change of mind that many individuals have experienced over the years. From early childhood, most of us have operated under the following assumption: When confronted with a task, we should work as hard as we are able and devote approximately equal time to each part of that task. According to this ?50/50 principle,? if we have to learn a piece of music, or master a new game, or fill out some role at home or at work, we should spread our effort equally across the various components.
Now consider another perspective on this issue. Early in the last century, the Italian economist and sociologist Vilifredo Pareto proposed what has come to be known as the ?80/20 principle? or rule. As explained by Richard Koch in a charming book, The 80/20 Principle,5 one can in general accomplish most of what one wants?perhaps up to 80 percent of the target?with only a relatively modest amount of effort?perhaps only 20 percent of expected effort (see figure 1-1). It is important to be judicious about where one places one?s efforts, and to be alert to ?tipping points? that abruptly bring a goal within (or beyond) reach. Conversely, one should avoid the natural temptation to inject equal amounts of energy into every part of a task, problem, project, or hobby; or to lavish equal amounts of attention on every employee, every friend, or every worry.
Why should anyone change his or her mind from operating under the 50/50 principle to believing Pareto?s apparently counterintuitive proposition? Let?s consider some concrete instances. Studies show that, in most businesses, about 80 percent of the profits come from 20 percent of the products. Clearly it makes sense to devote attention and resources to the profitable products while dropping the losers. In most businesses, the top workers produce far more than their share of profits; thus one should reward the top workers while trying to ease out the unproductive (and unprofitable) ones. Complementing this notion (and with a nod to pessimists), 80 percent of the trouble in a workforce characteristically comes from a small number of troublemakers?who, unless they are relatives of the boss, should promptly be excised from the company. (In corporate America this philosophy has been explicitly adopted by companies like GE that single out the top 20 percent for reward and the bottom 10 percent for oblivion.) The same ratio applies to customers: The best customers or clients account for most of our successes, while the vast majority of clientele contribute little to our bottom line. With respect to almost any product or project, one can accomplish the basic specifications and goals with only about one-fifth of the customary effort; nearly all remaining efforts are then expended simply to reach perfection or to satisfy our own obsessive streak. In each case, one must ask: Do we truly desire such perfection? What are the opportunity costs of devoting significant energy to just one of a raft of possible endeavors? The 80/20 principle even crops up in current events. According to the New York Times, 20 percent of baggage screeners at airports account for 80 percent of the mistakes.6 Responding to this need, an aviation expert named Michael Cantor designed a simple perceptual task that ?screens out? the least able screeners.
By now, even if you have never heard of this principle, you have probably gotten the gist of it (maybe even 80 percent thereof!). You?ll have a sense of whether this is familiar territory for you (?Pareto was just talking about ?cutting your losses??), or whether it represents a genuinely new way of thinking about things (?I am going right down to the director of human resources and see how we can get rid of the most moribund 20 percent of our team?). You?ll probably have some questions?for example, is it always 80/20? How do you know which 20 percent to focus on? Do we really want our pilots, our surgeons, our scientists, or our artists to practice 80/20 triage? And if you are a bit irreverent, you may ask: ?How could someone named Koch write a 300-page book on the 80/20 principle?? Quick answer: It?s a good read.
In other words, by this point, chances are that you?re beginning to change your mind about previous beliefs and accept the plausibility of Pareto?s proposition?in theory, at least. Indeed, from one perspective, the 80/20 principle seems easy enough to state, understand, absorb. Human beings could have been designed as the kinds of creatures who can readily learn to think about choices in such a new way. In reality, however, nothing could be further from the truth. One of the most entrenched habits in human thought is the belief that one should operate according to a rival 50/50 principle. We should treat everyone and everything fairly and equally?and expect the same from others (particularly our parents!). We should spend the same amount of time on each person, each customer, each employee, each project, each part of each project. Evolutionary psychologists go so far as to claim that this ?equity principle? is part of the mental architecture of our species. But there is no need to invoke a biological explanation. There is ample cultural support from earliest childhood for the notion that one should devote attention equivalently: ?Now children, let?s share the candy so that each of you gets exactly the same amount.? And so even individuals who ardently wish to operate on a basis other than 50/50?be it 80/20, 60/40, or 99/1?find it challenging to do so: It?s easy enough to state or tout the 80/20 principle; changing one?s mind and henceforth operating in accordance with it proves much harder.
The 80/20 principle is perhaps best described as a concept. Human beings think in concepts, and our minds are stocked with concepts of all sorts?some tangible (the concept of furniture, the concept of a meal), others far more abstract (the concept of democracy, or gravity, or the gross national product). As concepts become more familiar, they often seem more concrete, and one becomes able to think of them in almost the same way that one thinks of something one can touch or taste. Thus on a first encounter, the 80/20 principle may seem abstract and elusive, but after one has used it for a while, and played with it in various contexts, this principle can become as familiar and cuddly as an old stuffed teddy bear.
Moreover, the more familiar a concept, the easier it is to think of in various ways. Which brings me to an important point: Presenting multiple versions of the same concept can be an extremely powerful way to change someone?s mind. So far, we have described the 80/20 principle in words and numbers?two common external marks (readily perceptible symbols that stand for concepts). But the principle need not be confined to linguistic or numerical symbolization?and it is the possibility of expression in a variety of symbolic forms that often facilitates mind changing. In figure 1-1, I already presented one graphic depiction of the principle.
Consider now three contrasting figures contained in Koch?s book. Each of these figures presents data about the consumption of beer that is relevant to the 80/20 principle and each might help convey the same general point?either to the same or to different kinds of audiences. Figure 1-2 is an ordered list of 100 beer drinkers, each represented by the number of glasses of beer consumed per week. The first 20 beer drinkers consume about 700 glasses; the remaining 80 drinkers consume 300 glasses, and, of those, the 20 least indulgent drink a mere 27 in total.
Figure 1-3 is a Cartesian grid plotting the number of glasses per person drunk per week against the cumulative percentage of total beer drunk. Here one can see both the number of glasses drunk by each person (the vertical stripes) and the cumulative percentage by cohort (the line that rises sharply on the left side of the grid and then slowly levels off across the top).
Figure 1-4, the simplest in most respects, features a pair of bar graphs. This idealized portrayal contains no information about individual drinkers. However, one can readily see that a relatively small percentage of bibulous individuals (20 percent) drink most of the beer (about 70 percent).
These various ways of thinking about Pareto?s principle brings us to an important point about mental representations: They have both a content and a form, or format. The content is the basic idea that is contained in the representation?what linguists would call the semantics of the message. The form or format is the particular language or system of symbols or notation in which the content is presented.
Each of the three ways of viewing the 80/20 idea essentially conveys the same content or semantic: a relatively small percentage of people in any group drink most of the beer. However, the graphic means employed?the form, format, or (more technically) the syntax?is distinctive, and different people may well find one form of reportage easier to decode than the others. Note that from a formal point of view, each of these graphic systems could denote anything from the number of sunny days in Seattle during September to the rate of brain cell loss during each decade of life. Only when labels have been affixed to these visual aids is it possible to appreciate the specific meaning that the graphic artist is trying to convey.
Essentially the same semantic meaning or content, then, can be conveyed by different forms: words, numbers, dramatic renditions, bulleted lists, Cartesian coordinates, or a bar graph. At first encounter, one may find it possible to think of the 80/20 principle only with reference to a numerical ratio (4:1). Over time, however, one can think of it in terms of spatial images, verbal metaphors, bodily states, or even musical passages. Indeed, one effective way of conveying the 80/20 principle is through the use of a cartoon (figure 1-5). In contrast, the same linguistic or graphic system of marking can be used to convey an indefinite number of meanings, so long as the syntactic rules that govern the particular marking system are followed and the labeling is appropriate.
Again, I argue here that multiple versions of the same point constitute an extremely powerful way in which to change minds. But what other factors might cause an individual to shift his or her perspective and begin to act on the basis of that principle?for instance, abandoning a 50/50 point of view and espousing instead an 80/20 perspective on various sectors of life? Would they be the same factors that persuaded Nicholson Baker that he did not, after all, want to furnish his apartment with forklifts and backhoes? I have identified seven factors?sometimes I?ll call them levers?that could be at work in these and all cases of a change of mind. As it happens, each factor conveniently begins with the letters ?re.?
Especially among those who deem themselves to be educated, the use of reason figures heavily in matters of belief. A rational approach involves identifying of relevant factors, weighing each in turn, and making an overall assessment. Reason can involve sheer logic, the use of analogies, or the creation of taxonomies. Encountering the 80/20 principle for the first time, an individual guided by rationality would attempt to identify all of the relevant considerations and weigh them proportionately: Such a procedure would help him to determine whether to subscribe to the 80/20 principle in general, and whether to apply it in a particular instance. Faced with a decision about how to furnish his apartment, Baker might come up with a list of pros and cons before reaching a final judgment.
Complementing the use of argument is the collection of relevant data. Those with scientific training can proceed in a systematic manner, perhaps even using statistical tests to verify?or cast doubt on?promising trends. But research need not be formal; it need only entail the identification of relevant cases and a judgment about whether they warrant a change of mind. A manager who has been exposed to the 80/20 principle might study whether its claims?for example, those about sales figures or employee difficulty?are borne out on her watch. Naturally, to the extent that the research confirms the 80/20 principle, it is more likely to guide behavior and thought. Writer Baker might conduct formal or informal research on the costs of various materials and on the opinions of those who would be likely to visit his newly furnished apartment.
Reason and research appeal to the cognitive aspects of the human mind; resonance denotes the affective component. A view, idea, or perspective resonates to the extent that it feels right to an individual, seems to fit the current situation, and convinces the person that further considerations are superfluous. It is possible, of course, that resonance follows on the use of reason and/or research; but it is equally possible that the fit occurs at an unconscious level, and that the resonant intuition is in conflict with the more sober considerations of Rational Man or Woman. Resonance often comes about because one feels a ?relation? to a mind-changer, finds that person ?reliable,? or ?respects? that person?three additional ?re? terms. To the extent that the move to forklifts and backhoes resonates for him, Baker may proceed with the redecoration. To the extent that 80/20 comes to feel like a better approach than 60/40 or 50/50, it is likely to be adopted by a decision maker in an organization.
I note that rhetoric is a principal vehicle for changing minds. Rhetoric may rely on many components: In most cases, rhetoric works best when it encompasses tight logic, draws on relevant research, and resonates with an audience (perhaps in light of some of the other ?re? factors just mentioned). Too bad rhetoric has that ?h? as a second letter.
The fourth factor sounds technical but the point is simple enough. A change of mind becomes convincing to the extent that it lends itself to representation in a number of different forms, with these forms reinforcing one another. I noted previously that it is possible to present the 80/20 principle in a number of different linguistic, numerical, and graphic ways; by the same token, as I?ve shown, a group of individuals can readily come up with different mental versions of Baker?s proposed furnishings. Particularly when it comes to matters of instruction?be it in an elementary school classroom or a managerial workshop?the potential for expressing the desired lesson in many compatible formats is crucial.7
In the cases discussed so far, the possibilities for mind changing lie within the reach of any individual whose mind is open. Sometimes, however, mind change is more likely to occur when considerable resources can be drawn on. Suppose that a philanthropist decides to bankroll a nonprofit agency that is willing to adopt the 80/20 principle in all of its activities. The balance might tip. Or suppose that an enterprising interior decorator decides to give Baker all of the materials that he needs at cost, or even for free. Again, the opportunity to redecorate at little cost may tip the balance. Looked at from the psychological perspective, the provision of resources is an instance of positive reinforcement?another ?re? term. Individuals are being rewarded for one course of behavior and thought rather than the other. Ultimately, however, unless the new course of thought is concordant with other criteria?reason, resonance, research, for example?it is unlikely to last beyond the provision of resources.
Two others factors also influence mind changing, but in ways somewhat different from the five outlined so far.
Sometimes, an event occurs in the broader society that affects many individuals, not just those who are contemplating a mind change. Examples are wars, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, economic depressions?or, on a more positive side, eras of peace and prosperity, the availability of medical treatments that prevent illness or lengthen life, the ascendancy of a benign leader or group or political party. Legislation could implement policies like the 80/20 rule. It is conceivable that a law could be passed (say, in Singapore) that would permit or mandate special bonuses for workers who are unusually productive, while deducting wages from those who are unproductive. Such legislation would push businesses toward adopting an 80/20 principle, even in eras where they had been following a more conventional 50/50 course. Turning to our other running example, an economic depression could nullify Baker?s plans for refurnishing his apartment, whereas a long era of prosperity could make it easier. (He could even purchase a second ?experimental? flat!)
The six factors identified so far can all aid in an effort to change minds. However, the existence of only facilitating factors is unrealistic. Indeed, in chapter 3 I will introduce the major paradox of mind changing: While it is easy and natural to change one?s mind during the first years of life, it becomes difficult to alter one?s mind as the years pass. The reason, in brief, is that we develop strong views and perspectives that are resistant to change. Any effort to understand the changing of minds must take into account the power of various resistances. Such resistances make it easy, second nature, for most of us to revert to the 50/50 principle, even after the advantages of the 80/20 principle have been set forth convincingly. Baker, for example, might elect to retain his current pattern of apartment furnishing, even when reason, resonances, rewards, and the like issue their Circean song. The hassle of moving, the possibility that he or others might become disenchanted with the extra backhoes and forklifts might overpower several pushes toward the new furnishings.
I?ve now introduced the seven factors that play crucial roles in mind changing. As we look at individual cases of successful or unsuccessful changes of mind, we can see these various factors at work in distinctive ways. For now, I will only say that a mind change is most likely to come about when the first six factors operate in consort and the resistances are relatively weak. Conversely, mind changing is unlikely to come about when the resistances are strong, and the other factors do not point strongly in one direction.
Changes of mind, of course, occur at a number of different levels of analysis, with the aforementioned seven factors being brought to bear on entities ranging from a single individual to a whole nation. In chapters 4 through 9 of this book I examine six realms, or arenas, in which changes of mind take place:
1. Large-scale changes involving heterogeneous or diverse groups, such as the population of an entire nation
2. Large-scale changes involving a more homogeneous or uniform group, such as a corporation or a university
3. Changes brought about through works of art, science, or scholarship, such as the writings of Karl Marx or Sigmund Freud, the theories of Charles Darwin or Albert Einstein, or the artistic creations of Martha Graham or Pablo Picasso
4. Changes within formal instructional settings, such as schools or training seminars
5. Intimate forms of mind changing involving two people or a small number, such as family members
6. Changes within one?s own mind, such as those that took place in Nicholson Baker?s musings about furniture.
Finally, let me introduce some basic terminology that I?ll be drawing on.
Most of us use the word idea to denote any mental content?and that?s perfectly appropriate. There are many kinds of ideas, of course, but (in addition to concepts like the 80/20 principle or a new type of apartment furnishing) I will focus on four others that prove of particular importance for a study of mind changing: concepts, stories, theories, and skills.
A concept, the most elementary unit, is an umbrella term that refers to any set of closely related entities. When we denote all four-legged furry household pets that bark as dogs, we are revealing our concept of canines. Even young children know hundreds of concepts?ranging from automobile to zebra?though they may not delineate the boundaries between concepts?say ?dog? and ?cat??in the same way that grown-ups do. Grown-ups also have more abstract concepts?gravity, democracy, photosynthesis, pride?which elude young children.
Stories are narratives that describe events that unfold over time. At a minimum, stories consist of a main character or protagonist, ongoing activities aimed toward a goal, a crisis, and a resolution, or at least an attempt at a resolution. (In his essay about mind change, Baker tells two very short stories?the man and the shoe, the author and his fantasized apartment.) Human beings like to hear stories and are also natural storytellers. By the time individuals enter school, they know dozens of stories, gleaned from their family, the media, and their own observations and experiences. And by the time they are grown, individuals know many hundreds of stories, though these stories may well be constructed on the bases of a smaller number of plots. (Remember, there are only six basic jokes!)
Theories are relatively formal explanations of processes in the world. A theory takes the form ?X has occurred because of A, B, C? or ?There are three kinds of Y, and they differ in the following ways? or ?I predict that either Z will happen or Y will happen, depending on condition D.? Pareto?s principle captures a theory about how to operate efficiently in daily life. From an early age, young children develop theories about how things work in the world. They will also encounter theories that are held by others in their culture. And once they begin disciplinary study in the schools, they will also encounter formal theories. And so, to take just one example, all youngsters in rainy climates develop theories about thunderstorms. At first they may think that these weather events represent the anger of their parents or a temper tantrum of the gods or the scheming of a wicked witch. Later on, observing the predictable order of events, they will hypothesize that the lightning causes the thunder to occur. In most cases, they will not discover the explanation of thunderstorms, and the relation between lightning and thunder, unless they study meteorology in school and learn about air currents, changes in temperature, electrical charges, and the differing speed of light and sound.
The example of the thunderstorm helps to clarify the relation among the three kinds of content that I?ve mentioned so far. At first, a child may have only a concept of a thunderstorm?an undifferentiated amalgam of wetness, a bolt of lightning, a shattering sound. Then she may well develop a story that satisfies her: ?The god of food is angry at me because I misbehaved at supper. And so he makes a noise that frightens me.? This story can evolve into a lay theory: Lightning causes a storm, and the storm is noisy. A course in meteorology may lead to a more sophisticated theory: thunderstorms understood as air currents within a cloud churning up moisture and building up electric charges that yield lightning.
Which leads to our fourth and last content of the mind?the skills (or practices) of which an individual is capable. Stories and theories are by their nature propositional. Individuals can state these stories or theories in strings of words, though they may well be represented mentally in other formats (such as a silent film or video sequence). In contrast, skills (or practices) consist of procedures that individuals know how to carry out, whether or not they choose to?or even can?put them into words. Skills will range from the mundane?eating a banana or catching a ball?to the complex?playing a Bach sonata on the violin or solving differential equations by hand. Often the facility of these skills changes gradually, as a result of practice, on the one hand, or disuse, on the other. But skills can also be subject to more dramatic forms of change, and when they are, we find ourselves centrally in the terrain of ?mind changing? under study here. For example, consider an experienced performer who typically learns a new piece of music by starting at the beginning and mastering it a measure at a time. If, as a result of any or all of the factors that I have identified, she becomes convinced that pieces are better learned backward, or by mastering the ending and the beginning first, or by first playing the piece through in its entirety with no regard to accuracy, then there has been a significant change in mind. (Note: The more gradual improvements that occur through repetitive practice also represent changes of mind, but they are of less interest here because of their ordinariness and predictability.)
The relation between content and form unfolds somewhat differently in the case of such skilled practices. One cannot simply state the content?like the 80/20 principle?in one symbol system and then show how it is basically preserved, but slightly altered, when captured in another symbolic form. The current status of the practice is both its form and its content?to recall poet William Butler Yeats?s famous query, ?How can one tell the dancer from the dance?? The content and the form of the procedure can and do change?but by and large they change together. It may well be the case that the change of a practice has effects on other practices; for example, if one learns to write prose in a new way, one may also come to speak (or even compose music) in a new way. In such a case, we could say that a particular change in content reverberates (or, more technically, ?transfers?) across various formats.
One might ask whether it is possible to stipulate the contents of the mind: to state all of the concepts, stories, theories, and skills in the mind of a particular human being?or indeed all human beings. In a sense, this question is a setup. Human beings constantly create or construct new mental representations, and so the content of the mind is by its nature an open, infinitely expandable category. At the same time there are serious attempts to itemize and categorize the principal contents: Think of dictionaries, encyclopedias, yellow pages, and search engines. In any event, there is no question that certain concepts, stories, theories, and skills carry a large proportion of the cognitive weight in our lives. Consider these examples:
Prevalent sets of concepts: living entity/dead entity; virtue/vice; pleasure/pain; plant/animal
Prevalent stories: Girl meets boy; hero is defeated by a tragic flaw; good triumphs over evil; the prodigal son returns home
Prevalent theories: Those who look like us are good, others are evil; if two events occur in close proximity, the first causes the second; might makes right
Prevalent skills: Dividing resources equally; conserving energy in preparation for a high-stakes performance; finishing assignments just before a pressing deadline.
There, then, we have the major kinds of content that inhabit the human mind. All of us possess?or, if you are a thoroughly modern mentalist, all of us are?our ideas, concepts, stories, theories, and skills. Cognitive scientists argue vociferously about whether we are born with this content?to use the lingo, whether there are such things as innate ideas (in which case all humans would be born knowing the 50/50 principle), or whether we are equally capable of learning every conceivable idea (were this the case, one could design cultures where 77/23 were as easy to master as 50/50 or 100/0), or whether certain ideas are learned easily because we are predisposed to acquire them (in which case it is much easier for humans to learn the 50/50 than the 80/20 rule). Full disclosure: I favor this latter hypothesis. The major job for cognitive scientists is to identify these ideas and explain how they come to be.In the chapters that follow, I endeavor to show how these various kinds of ideas change: to see at work the several factors that either induce or thwart significant changes of mind. First, however, having introduced the major contents of mind, we must turn our attention to the various forms in which these contents can be manifest.
Posted April 17, 2010
This book is surprising. Written in a colloquial style, it may initially give the impression of being one more superficial book with a good title. But it isn't. The book presents interesting findings, supports statements with research, and adds personal touches that reveal depth and sense of humor. It feels like a dialogue with an interesting person: the kind of conversation that you feel you not only enjoyed, but you actually learned something that may prove valuable for your life. I recommend the book for everyone who is interested in knowing how the mind works: it makes the mind mechanisms more accessible and nonetheless fascinating.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 27, 2005
Most academics believe it¿s impossible to write intelligent books in plain language that will grab the interest of lay readers...perhaps this one will change their minds. This short book is a pleasure to read. Author and scholar Howard Gardner addresses a general readership without assuming that his readers have academic experience with psychological theories. This is a rare tome indeed - a book by a Harvard psychology don that is intelligible, elucidating and entertaining. Gardner covers all the elements of how people change their minds and couches an appeal to what he calls the 'unschooled' mind. He discusses how minds change, how intelligence works and what factors influence people¿s thinking. Although he does not provide much tactical advice on applying his principles to be more persuasive, almost everyone can learn something new from this book, which we highly recommend. Not only could you benefit from exploring how to change people¿s minds, you may even change your own mind about the persuasive approaches you use every day.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.