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Good Question: Why Is It So Hard To Change Our Minds?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – When President Barack Obama announced his plans for gun control, it wasn’t a surprise to see people immediately revert to the same positions they held before the announcement.

Whether it’s gun control, taxes or marriage: Why is it so hard for people to change their minds about issues?

In our hyper-partisan, hyper-argumentative world, you can see why Lance Olson told me on Twitter: “Everyone’s entrenched. People cheer for their team, not [the] issue.”

Essentially, he said, “thinking [is] banned.”

“What does it take to change our minds on big issues?” said Richard Martin on Facebook. “Education with real data, not propaganda or hype. Show me how the changes will make me safer, more secure or happier.”

“I think it’s a complex process,” said John Tauer, a social psychology professor at University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

“Once we’ve dug our heels into some position it becomes more difficult to say, you know, I think I was wrong,” Tauer said.

He pointed to two factors: self-interest and cognitive dissonance.

When you convince yourself that you’re right about something for years, and get information that contradicts that, your brain has to somehow make sense of that.

“One of the big things is that need to be always right,” said Tauer, describing one of the basic human needs.

Tauer said to really change your mind, you have to change your thought process.

“How can we become more objective, and less tied emotionally to positions we’ve had in the past?” he said.

Sometimes a shocking event can force an examination. Former Congressman Joe Scarborough was an NRA guy. After Newtown, he said: “I knew that day that the ideologies of my past career were no longer relevant to the future that I want, that I demand for my children. Friday changed everything. It must change everything.”

But most major societal changes in attitude take at least a generation, Tauer said.

“When we hold a really strong attitude for a long time, it’s difficult to change them,” he said.

There is some research in the journal Current Biology from University College London that shows your political opinions are hard-wired into your brain.

Conservatives tend to have a larger amygdala that makes them more sensitive to threats. Liberals have different brain chemistry, too.

So, brain chemistry may be part of why it’s difficult to change your political opinions.

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