US/World

Seeing Is Believing: The Right Way To Convince Someone They’re Wrong

debate
Visual arguments are more effective in winning someone over than verbal ones, according to a Dartmouth study. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

When someone counters your argument with words, you’re less likely to believe them than if they handed you a visual chart to digest.

A Dartmouth study conducted by cognitive researchers shows that we process information better when it’s presented to us visually, and graphic representations of data can aid in convincing others that they’re wrong. This is because visuals are our “native language,” the authors of the study said.

Researchers at Dartmouth set out to complete this study due to a curiosity behind why Americans are so misinformed, particularly about politics. They explored two possible reasons why people, in general, are misinformed.The first was simply that people did not have access or exposure to accurate information, and the second was the mindset of the person when encountering accurate data.

In attempting to persuade someone of an argument, researchers first tried to explain things verbally: this worked the least, as people often retorted with their own verbal arguments. Then, researchers gave them the information in the form of a text paragraph, but still had similar results. Finally, the participants were presented with the information in chart form, and were more likely to accept it as true.

The study found that “providing accurate information in graphical form reduces misperceptions,” but that wasn’t the only way. Many times, when confronted with new (and accurate) information that they previously didn’t believe, people feel their worldview or sense of self is threatened. Thus, the cognitive researchers experimented in affirming study participants’ self-worth to see if it would help them accept new information. “[S]elf-affirmation also substantially reduces misperceptions among those most likely to hold them even if no other information is provided,” the authors wrote in their abstract. “The misperceptions problem is thus not simply the result of a lack of information — our results suggest that many people could offer correct answers if they were less psychologically threatening to provide.”

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