April 24, 2015

The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind

It’s rare for people to change what they believe, and if they do it, it’s usually a long process. This week, stories of those very infrequent instances where people’s opinions flip on fundamental things that they believe. Why does it happen in these particular and unusual circumstances? We explain. NOTE: One of the authors of a study covered in this episode has asked that the study be retracted.

Miki Meek

One of the authors of the study about people changing their minds about gay marriage—covered in the Prologue and Act One of this episode—has asked the journal Science to retract the study because of apparently falsified data. Our story was based on the facts that were available at the time. Now the facts have changed. Ira writes about the retraction at length and producer Jonathan Menjivar has this follow-up.


Ira introduces “the backfire effect,” a phenomenon stating that when confronted with evidence disproving what we believe, most of us ignore that evidence, dig in and become more entrenched in our beliefs. Which just makes the recordings he plays more surprising—recordings of canvassers going door to door and effectively convincing people to completely flip their positions. (5 1/2 minutes)
Act One

Do Ask, Do Tell

Ira continues to explain how these canvassers learned how to change people’s minds, and talks about the mistakes they made along the way. (18 minutes)
Act Two

Crime Pays

Reporter Joe Richman visits a program in Richmond, CA that is trying a controversial method of reducing gun violence in their city: paying criminals to not commit crimes. Sounds crazy, but the even crazier part is…it works. To figure out how, Joe speaks to guys participating in the program, and to Sam Vaugn, a man whose job it is to monitor the criminals' progress and keep them on track. Joe runs the Radio Diaries podcast, where this week you can hear a companion story. (19 minutes)

Act Three

Glacial Change

Zalena (pictured, right) lived in paradise. She grew up in American Samoa, hanging out on the beach, doing normal teenage things with her friends—until senior year, when her dad decided he was going to move the family to the exact opposite of everything she’d known—a tiny, isolated town in Alaska. (14 minutes)