Society

Link convincing people to their social identity

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People hold a strong preference to listen to information that agrees with their own social identity. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

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Summary

  • The human brain is hard wired to make quick rather than deep decisions and we are biased to prefer easy to digest news that fits with the worldview of our social identity.
  • In order to break through their brain’s information filter that blocks acceptance of whatever else you say, you must approach them from within their other social identity.
  • Leverage on people’s secondary identity to breakthrough on issues you may disagree with them.

In the business world, we like to think of ourselves as rational beings making clear and intentional decisions based on facts, data, and information. Even more so, we desire our colleagues, customers, and superiors to also make fact-based decisions.

But people hold a strong preference to listen to information that agrees with their own social identity. If, for example, a colleague strongly believes in some restorative power of organic foods and socialises with others who hold that same belief structure, then any information to the contrary would shake the core of their worldview and they would filter it out.

So, multiyear longitudinal studies that may show that organic foods hold no greater health benefits than regular foods would be psychologically dismissed and blocked by the individual as biased, inaccurate, having ulterior motives in the research.... But one may argue that a subset of people determined to pay more for organic food really does not harm society so why try to convince them.

Conversely, in broader society, from climate deniers to flat earthers to medical refusers, anti-factual thinking can impact others besides just the individual decision-maker. The so-called anti-vaxxers who erroneously believe that vaccines are unsafe do cause problems that hurt the public good.

Resurgences of measles and polio harm swathes of children because parents see tunnel vision on vaccines. Then further, a massive disinformation campaign pertaining to the vaccines of the covid-19 pandemic persists across the world. Vaccine hesitancy will give the novel coronavirus greater time and chances to mutate into ever more deadly variants that can hurt us all.

In the business world, an executive who firmly believes a new product is desirable and saleable and then confidently proceeds with product development, product rollout, and a marketing campaign simply because they hold a gut feeling that the product fills a clear target customer need and then also socialises with others inside the company who feel the same will be hard-pressed to actually listen to customer surveys, focus groups, or other product development data showing the contrary.

That executive, as a result, harms the future of their organisation and the safety of their employees’ job future and investors’ funds.

Psychologists Gale Sinatra and Barbara Hofer present an interesting first step for helping others to reduce their assumptions and stand on data in their conclusion processes.

You first must break through their information filter that processes out incongruent data that harms their social identity.

The human brain is hard wired to make quick rather than deep decisions and we are biased to prefer easy to digest news that fits with the worldview of our social identity.

Luckily, people hold multiple social identities. An arrogant tunnel minded executive would also find identity in other areas of life, perhaps they might also enjoy watching football, attending church, or traveling to nature parks with his or her children.

In order to break through their brain’s information filter that blocks acceptance of whatever else you say, you must approach them from within their other social identity.

THE FAVOURITE

Discuss with them about football so they see you as someone similar who is not out to attack them.

Converse about your own church experiences. Share your favourite nature park trips and your own value of family.

In short, whether someone who harms the public good by their intransiences or an individual who hurts your organisation by their narrow non-factual thinking on a subject, leverage on people’s secondary identity to breakthrough on issues you may disagree with them.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor