What is the “Backfire Effect”?

During my lifetime, I have met and continue to meet and interact with people from all walks of life. There are two major topics that I try to avoid discussing: politics and religion. When it comes to both and I am respectful, tolerant and understanding of all points of view.  My background, experiences, and upbringing will just not allow me to take one position and never budge from it.  So I tend to be more eclectic and reject labels.  I have lived and traveled all over the world and seen and experienced too much to be that intractable. That’s my story and I am sticking to it!

Several months ago I was listening to NPR and heard that once people take a stance, 90 percent of the time they are not likely to budge. People are not very likely to change their views even when convinced otherwise.

Below are excerpts from two online articles about this.

Dr. Alex Lickerman writes in  The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-in-world/201003/getting-people-change-their-minds

“Changing another person’s mind is literally one of the hardest things to do in the world. Think of how many conversations you’ve ever had in which one of the participants decided the other was right and abandoned their previous views altogether. It almost never happens.

Why? Because even though ideas flit in and out of our heads like mosquitoes, ideas that are believed cling with electromagnetic power. Once we believe an idea we develop an emotional connection to it, not to mention a commitment to it—as if to a person—and often become attached to it with a strength we often don’t realize has little to do with the merit of the belief itself. And once we’re attached to anything—whether a person, place, thing, or idea—giving it up is extremely hard.”

I provide another article on the Backfire Effect


“In a perfectly rational world, people who encounter evidence which challenges their beliefs, would first evaluate this evidence, and then adjust their beliefs accordingly. However, in reality this is seldom the case.

Often, when people encounter evidence that should cause them to doubt their beliefs, they reject this evidence, and strengthen their support for their original stance. This occurs due to a cognitive bias known as the backfire effect. The Backfire Effect is a phenomenon where people who encounter evidence that contradicts their beliefs, strengthen their support for those beliefs, despite the new evidence to the contrary.

  • This effect has been observed in various scenarios, such as people supporting a political candidate more strongly after negative information about that candidate is released.
  • The backfire effect is a type of confirmation bias,that occurs because when people argue strongly against unwelcome information, they end up with more arguments that support their original stance.
  • There is variability in terms of when people are influenced by this effect, but since this variability is difficult to predict, it’s better to act under the assumption that the backfire effect will play a role in people’s decision-making process.

Now you may have a better understanding of why some people do not and will never agree with you, no matter what compelling evidence you provide, or vice versa.  Un

One thought on “What is the “Backfire Effect”?

  1. The articles allude to saving face, which, I think, is a particular feature of individualistic cultures. People quite literally are on an island in this country and have to compete (or feel they have to) with everyone else. Being wrong–or perceived as wrong or stupid–has real consequences in this country. My international experience has shown me that Americans love being right and love being loved even when they’re wrong. Is the Backfire effect linked to feeling no one will back a person up? Structures, systems, and processes must ask for accountability, yes. But they also nurture failure and mistakes. Without failure or mistakes, initiative and success are less likely and learning is compromised. Thank you for this thoughtful post. PH

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