Saturday, 28 November 2015

How to debunk Myths

1) Do more than simply explain the facts. 

Fight sticky myths with even stickier facts - this is the golden rule of debunking in Made To Stick (by Chip and Dan Heath).
Make your answers sticky - short, simple and concrete.  Messages that grab attention and stick in the brain.
And here's their mnemonic for stickiness:
  • Simple: If you can't explain it to a 6 year old, you don't understand it as well as you think.
  • Unexpected: use any counter-intuitive factoids to take people by surprise.
  • Credible: have sound sources you can point to
  • Concrete: make the abstract real using clear analogies and metaphors.
  • Emotional: we are emotional beings - embrace it even when talking about technology.  Expressing our passion has a power all of it's own. Personal stories communicate things at a more fundamental level than dispassionate abstractions do.
  • Stories: Shape the facts into a narrative.  That creates a place for the facts to be stored in your audience's brains.

2) Focus attention on the truths, not the myths

The more often a statement is made, the more familiar it becomes to people, the more likely they are to think that it is true.
(Advertising works this way - once a message gets repeated more than 10-15 times, our critical faculties stop assessing the message before deciding whether to put it into our brain's long-term storage or not.  After enough repetitions, it just gets placed straight into storage).
This can cause a “familiarity backfire effect” - reinforcing the myth in people’s minds.
To avoid the familiarity backfire effect:
1) Put the emphasis on the facts.  Not on the myth.
2) Lead with the facts you wish to communicate, rather than the myth.  
3) Finish with the facts you want to communicate.  The correct facts should always be the first and last things you state.
Avoid putting the myth in the headline - that breaks the first two rules.
4) Show a warning flag before mentioning the myth, so people's mind's are on guard so they’re less likely to be influenced by the myth. It can be as simple as "A common misconception is ..."
5) Explain what trick or fallacy the myth uses to distort the facts.  People then have the opportunity and means to reconcile the facts with the myth. 
Here is a handy framework for identifying fallacies:
Tricks of (il)logic:
  • Red Herrings - is it an irrelevant line of argument?
  • Misrepresentations - Is the statement made actually true? Is it exaggerating for effect?
  • Jumps to conclusions - from here to there in one mighty, illogical bound
  • False dichotomoties - they say it's either or.  Maybe it's both and?
Expectations that cannot be met
Cherry Picking of facts
  • the authority of sources
  • the size of counter-examples
So - always lead with a SUCCES-ful fact.  Repeat the fact at the end, to recap. 
Give a clear warning, before repeating any myth.
Explain the trick behind the myth.

Repeat the SUCCES-ful fact at the end, to recap.
FWMFF - it's probably a  real word in Welsh :-)  Pronounced Fooomff.  In a lilting accent.

3)  Make your message easy to process. 

  • easy to read
  • easy to understand 
  • short and to the point

Info that is easy to process is more likely to be accepted as true.

For example, simply getting a better colour contrast in a printed font so that is easier to read, increases people’s acceptance of a statement as true

4) Stick to a few key counter-arguments.

3 arguments are more successful than 12.

The more arguments you use, the more you risk re-inforcing the myth.  The refutations are too many to remember, so all that is remembered is the myth.  And we already know that the more often someone is exposed to the myth, the more likely they are to accept it as true. 

5)  Stick to the facts

Don't be dramatic.

Do not make derogatory comments - these will alienate people.

6) Keep the audience as unbiased as possible.

If they are given a choice, people selectively seek out information that bolsters their existing view.  This is Confirmation Bias.

Remove the choice, and present someone with arguments that run against their worldview? People spend significantly more time and thought actively arguing against opposing arguments.  This is Disconfirmation Bias

Together, it means that argument and debate is most often going to bolster pre-existing attitudes.  Raising supporting facts most often results in strengthening people’s pre-existing beliefs in the myths we want to bust.

7) Target the undecideds. 

The stronger the previously-held belief, the more entrenched it becomes in debate.

Keep away from the hot-button topics.

8) Couple any message that threatens a world-view with self-affirmation

People become more balanced in considering pros and cons when you do this.
Self-affirmation is getting people to reflect on their own good feelings about themselves.  (For example, by writing a few sentences about a time when they felt good about themselves because they acted on a value that was important to them. 
This has the strongest effect on people when you are trying to change a worldview which is most central to their own sense of self-worth. 

 9) Frame the debate in a way that threatens the audience's worldview less.

This can be as simple as using a different label for your proposal.

10) Any time you kill a myth, replace it with a new storyline.

This is based on what I expect I'd find in 
The Debunking Handbook
I'm off to read it now.

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