by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
influence, studies

Are You More Or Less Likely To Change Your Mind When The Majority Disagrees With You?

from the psychological-theories dept

There are a few different theories on how people react to finding out that they're in the minority on some particular viewpoint. One theory suggests that, when confronted with people disagreeing with our viewpoints, we just dig in stronger in order to validate our own self-worth. The other side of the argument, however, is that our need for social acceptance means that if we find ourselves in the minority, we may be more likely to change our opinion in order to remain socially connected to others. Apparently some researchers at HP decided to put some of this to the test to see which of the two theories held more sway. In this case, they asked people choose which piece of furniture they liked better out of two pieces. At some later time, they asked the same people the same question -- but also gave a count of how many people preferred each piece of furniture. What the researchers found was a bit unexpected: when a lot of people "disagreed" with the person's choice... they were more likely to stick to their original choice. When a smaller number of people disagreed, they were more likely to switch their vote. So, in the face over overwhelming opposition, it seems people are more ready to dig in. In the face of moderate opposition, they may be more open to changing their views. So, from now on, if everyone disagrees with me, I'm just going to have to dig in even stronger, because this report says that's the thing to do... (yes, that's a joke).

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  1. identicon
    monkyyy, 19 Sep 2011 @ 10:11pm

    really? i stick to my guns no matter what

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Sep 2011 @ 10:17pm

    It is all relative to bots and shills

    For example the lowly shill; if he gets his daily quota posted it really doesn't matter to him that people don't agree with it. Kind of how spambots don't really care if you don't fall for their 'advertisement'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, 19 Sep 2011 @ 10:54pm

    HP TouchPad Effect

    If something isnít popular, I should be able to buy it for less.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Liz (profile), 19 Sep 2011 @ 10:59pm

    Picking a piece of furniture is not the same as a more deeply held belief such as religion or politics. There's no deep philosophical "truths" involved (at least for most people) when it comes to fashion sense and taste in decorative design.

    When a bunch of people tell you, "Hey, that chair is pretty ugly," then it's easier to change your mind and go with the consensus. It's a fairly new and recent viewpoint that's more easily changed. It seems from this study that when there's larger opposition, then we get to a sense of individualism. "I don't want to be another drone like everyone else." In the greater view of things though, it doesn't really matter in the end.

    When it comes to more ingrained beliefs that actually reflect our self-value like religion and politics, or even our own moralities, then people are much more likely to dig in their heels and stick to their beliefs. You see this a LOT with arguments like liberal vs. conservative, Republican vs. Democrat, atheist vs. theistic faith, science vs. religion. Or a whole host of other cultural clashes.

    To change someone's mind based on an issue that hits at their core beliefs can become a traumatic experience. It shakes someone right down to their sense of self. Their core beliefs become challenged and psychologically many people will react in a similar manner that someone would if they were being physically violated. People feel a need to strongly defend such a position because it is a part of who they are as a person.

    "These are my beliefs. My values. This is who I am. If what *I* believe is wrong, then *I* and everything I've been taught is a lie."

    We don't want to feel betrayed by those who we've entrusted in positions of authority. Educators, religious leaders, community heads, even our own family. Those people who shape our society are the same people who shape our lives and help us grow as individuals. This is where the trauma comes in when challenged on personally held beliefs. People can have a crisis of faith, or doubt themselves, or feel betrayed by people who taught them, or even distance themselves from family and friends. The former social bonds can be shattered leaving a person feeling alone and lost.

    So, picking between two chairs? That's easy. It generally doesn't personally effect you on a grand scale. But arguing against your core beliefs is an entirely different matter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    monkyyy, 19 Sep 2011 @ 11:05pm


    i wonder how many ppl went "emmi meanie minie moe" for the chairs

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Greevar (profile), 19 Sep 2011 @ 11:25pm


    Whether you're deciding between two chairs or between different philosophical beliefs, it comes down to cognitive dissonance. The mind cannot live with the existence of an unresolved conflict. So it has to choose one option as being superior over the other. By merit of that choice, the unselected option(s) is inferior. Why else do we have the colloquial "fanboy" for many of the major interests out their like the iPhone vs. any other phone, PS3 vs. 360, Jacob vs. Edward? When presented with a choice of one superior option, the mind has to determine the superior and the inferior choice. Once the choice is made, the mind finds every rationalization it can to justify that choice to reassure oneself that "proper" choice has been made. The more strongly a person values that choice as part of their identity, the more fiercely they hold to it, regardless of it's practical or logical importance. If it's as important to make the right choice of chair as it is for some people to choose the right religion, it's just as valid. Being as it's subjective to each individual, you can't dismiss the merit of this experiment because they used chairs and not religion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Sep 2011 @ 11:34pm

    This is more or less a matter of taste, style, and aesthetics. In that regard, people want to be unique. Things like fashion trends change all the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Liz (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 12:32am

    Re: Re:

    What you suggest sounds more like an "Us vs Them" prospect of culturalism. You describe a fan base of electronics due to an established culture behind them that already existed. Marketers like to call it "Brand Loyalty."

    Ask someone that isn't a gamer to pick which console is better. They might use a whole other set of standards. Things like the number of titles available on each system, or the hardware specs, the uses each console has beyond just playing video games, maybe the physical look of each appliance, or more likely the over all financial cost associated with each product. The same thing goes for the iPhone and it's "Cult of Mac." Jacob vs. Edward was a huge marketing success because it developed a neat division of "Us vs. Them." They created a culture based on a work of fiction. However beyond that fan base, does anyone really care that much?

    Even then, we'll probably see similar results as the chair experiment because it's a consumer product. The non-gamer may defer their decision to a group who actually owns the item in question.

    How often has someone resigned their decision making with a simple phrase, "I don't care. You pick." And as monkyyy so humorously put it, the decision process could have been left to chance. If it happened, would a random result really be a determining factor in which product is superior? "The coin landed on Heads, so that chair is best."

    Besides, the mind CAN exist with unresolved conflict once a person learns that a viable answer is an undisclosed third option. There are almost always alternate options not presented. Someone could have chosen both chairs. Or disregarded either as being atrocious. Or simply gone with the answer, "I don't know."

    A whole other world is opened up once we break binary thinking. However that's another subject.

    The difference between picking a chair and a philosophical belief is the difference between the short and long term investment. How much of a personal stake are you willing to put into an aesthetic design as opposed to your own core beliefs? Is it worth more to you to hold your views over the look of a chair or is there more value in discussing the merits and pitfalls of a Vegan lifestyle?

    I didn't intend to dismiss the study outright. It does provide insight into an aspect of the human mind. You can learn how to understand other people by the way most would react to a given set of choices.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Zot-Sindi, 20 Sep 2011 @ 1:00am



    i have beliefs i know for a fact the vast majority of the world would disagree vehemently on

    i've been insulted, pushed aside, alienated, labeled a troll or an idiot and accused of being mentally unstable & even "sick" for daring to try and mention/explain them to people because they do not understand these beliefs

    does it make my belief less? nope. i'll stick with it to the end, it's my core and no amount of human stupidity and social pressure will change that

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Zot-Sindi, 20 Sep 2011 @ 1:01am

    Re: Re:

    i would have hell of alot more trouble picking out the chair!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Butcherer79 (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 1:12am

    Depends on the argument put forward, if I'm convinced, I can change my mind.
    But generally, no, it won't make me change my mind... NEXT!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    grumpy (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 1:14am

    So in order to change the collective minds of the MAFIAA we would have to only disagree a little with what they do. Tough proposition, that... But hey, if it saves the world I'll stick to only calling their business practices unethical. :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Frost (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 1:22am

    It depends on the subject at hand.

    It all depends on what the subject matter is.

    If it's something unknowable like religion then I personally have to go with trying to view things based on what we already know and/or have theorized as well as the observable real-world consequences of religion, and once I do that, religion seems to be a vastly evil force that we need to get rid of. I'm not so interested in discussing various flavors of insanity and which is the least nuts - that seems pointless and a waste of time.

    Same is true for politics and finances and such - right, left, capitalist, communist, that's all just slightly different flavors of money-based-society thinking, and the solution isn't in that minor bickering about the internal details of the system - it is in deep-sixing the system in favor for something that has a hope in hell of actually working, without destroying the planet like now.

    Now, if we're talking aesthetic choices, things get a bit more murky and considerably less important, but any technological process has very few cases where there truly is more than one optimal approach, in my view. I think it more comes down to it being more difficult to enumerate the optimal choice as well as people wanting some specific thing to be true due to ingrained ideology so they reject reality and try to substitute their own.

    I like to think that if someone can prove me wrong in any given area, I will change my mind. Areas where nobody can prove anyone wrong, however, do exist - philosophical or aesthetic choices and the like, and there you have to just go with what you believe and enjoy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2011 @ 1:38am

    Are You More Or Less Likely To Change Your Mind...

    Definitely less!

    Who's with me, guys?

    No one?

    Uh... then I mean more!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Miran (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 2:57am

    game changer

    I see people bouncing around opinions. More or less saying the same thing. Most of the time which they say are not well thought out. There are things which they do not know. Which may seem apparently irrelevant and unrelated but is very closely linked to it. People rarely seek an alternative way of thinking. I only stick to my opinion when every aspect of an argument has been covered.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Butcherer79 (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 3:03am

    Re: game changer

    When do you know that every aspect has been covered?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2011 @ 3:26am

    When it comes to the United States Constitution and the Original Intent of the Framers, You Damn Skippy I Stick To My Principles.

    For if the Constitution is a so called living document malleable to any current idea or whim then it stands for nothing and liberty is lost.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2011 @ 3:36am

    Well at least they are starting to try and understand but right now is not that accurate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Butcherer79 (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 3:59am


    I thought the constitution WAS a living document, hence the (27?) amendments?
    From Wiki:
    "The framers of the Constitution were aware that changes would be necessary if the Constitution was to endure as the nation grew. However, they were also conscious that such change should not be easy, lest it permit ill-conceived and hastily passed amendments. On the other hand, they also wanted to ensure that a rigid requirement of unanimity would not block action desired by the vast majority of the population. Their solution was a two-step process for proposing and ratifying new amendments."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    abc gum, 20 Sep 2011 @ 4:41am

    As everyone knows, majority does not necessarily equal correctness.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2011 @ 5:06am

    They missed a crucial point, you're more likely to change your opinion if your friends or those you have a good opinion of have a different opinion then you. This is especially true in politics.

    Global warming is a good example of where people are digging in where they're wrong. Despite more evidence then ever showing that it's fact conservatives have quickly turned against believing in global warming. Just a decade ago, and even 5 years ago, we had conservative politicians in America talking about the importance of fighting global warming. But now because a majority of their own party doesn't buy it those people have flip flopped and pretend they never believed in global warming.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Chosen Reject (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 5:15am


    people want to be unique. Things like fashion trends change all the time
    I love how you say people want to be unique and then talk about trends, which are, by definition, a lot of people trying not to be unique. Some people like to be unique. Other people want to be like others. Some people don't care. Most (if not all) people are each of those at different times and for different things. This study is interesting, but I think it would be fascinating to see this study replicated for all sorts of choices.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    Chosen Reject (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 5:21am

    Re: It depends on the subject at hand.

    So you're saying that since the majority disagrees with you on religion, politics, and finances, that you are less likely to change your mind. That's interesting. In fact, I recently read a study that talked about that very thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    NullOp, 20 Sep 2011 @ 6:27am

    Very Interesting

    This is a very interesting question. It's very relevant to the news people as they count on people "going with the perceived majority" for their bread-and-butter. So many people in the world are ready to believe what they read in the paper or see on the news it doesn't enter their minds that they are being manipulated. The news media is famous, infamous, for showing things out of context, choosing unflattering pictures and other shenanigans meant to sway opinion. The sad fact is, it's only going to get worse. As technology improves the manipulation of fact and circumstance only gets more appealing to the media people.

    Obama 2012 - NO!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    JEDIDIAH, 20 Sep 2011 @ 6:33am


    ...and that's all well and good for subjects that are actually directly addressed by an Amendment. Otherwise, the original legal language needs to stand and it's original linguistic context needs to be correctly acknowledged.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    candide08 (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 7:11am

    I disagree with the results of this study...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    OC, 20 Sep 2011 @ 7:23am

    It gets more interesting. Assuming you know this fact the researchers found and you "dig in" when faced with a choice like that you are actually doing what the majority of people does. That sounds like a contradiction. If you're doing the opposite of majority you would actually agree with the majority. And now I got a headache.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    Butcherer79 (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 7:28am

    Re: It

    Correct, until it's deemed that a change is necessary, then you whack in an amendment to counter the original text, even if it can take centuries to get passed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    Greevar (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 7:32am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Us vs. them is just a simplification. It could just as well be a vanilla vs. chocolate vs. butterscotch vs. custard. The most important issue here is selecting the superior option and rationalizing that by deeming the other options as inferior. The choice of which chair you prefer can be just as important as what religion you follow if you are as emotionally invested in it and/or consider it a part of your identity. The probability for a higher emotional investment in the choice might be stronger if it's religion or philosophy, but that doesn't mean a chair can't do the same. All aesthetic or philosophical choices are completely subject to a person's ego.

    'How often has someone resigned their decision making with a simple phrase, 'I don't care. You pick.'"

    This happens most often when one can't resolve the internal conflict over which is superior and defers the decision to a trusted companion who knows their mind to help resolve that conflict. The companion makes what they think that person would consider the superior option given the available data.

    "Besides, the mind CAN exist with unresolved conflict once a person learns that a viable answer is an undisclosed third option."

    It's not a one or the other kind of issue, it's a which of the options is the best choice. For example, you're an EMT and you have three dying patients. If you don't act, they all will die. They all have an equal chance of survival and there is nothing apparently distinguishing about one over the other, but you can only save one and the other two must die. How do you choose and how do you live with the deaths of the other two? That's what cognitive dissonance is. A person might manage to live with the conflict over time, but it won't leave them without some sort of lingering doubt, possibly even trauma. The mind will go berserk trying to find a way to justify the choice because it can't deal with choosing one when other options are equally valid. It must find a way to put one choice above the others.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    rosspruden (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 7:38am

    A study about reporting facts

    I heard a similar study, but the test was to get subjects to report factual observations. Two lines drawn on a blackboard were obviously different lengths, but the subjects' reliability in reporting the truth dropped as more shills were asked to answer falsely before the subject answered. With as few as five shills answering before them with false claims ó "the lines are the same length" ó the subjects' answer was truthful only 25% of the time. However, If one shill was asked to tell the truth, the subjects' truthful responses jumped back up to 80-90%.

    Explains why dictators always start by excising any dissenting intellectuals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Howard, 20 Sep 2011 @ 7:59am

    Science is not done by show of hands.

    I supposed it's possible to be swayed by other's opinions, and that certainly appears to be the rule in what passes for science in the field of nutrition, but actual science should (eventually) rule the day, I hope. For instance, "whole grains" are about as good for you as tobacco, and there is no clinical study clearly establishing a causal link between dietary cholesterol (or saturated fat) and blood serum cholesterol -- despite over 5 decades of attempts to establish one. There isn't even any good evidence that high cholesterol causes heart disease -- a critical examination of the AHA's own published data shows a very weak *negative* correlation.

    Worse yet, statins increase all-cause mortality in every group but one: men over 65 with a prior heart attack. And even in that group, the "benefit" of statins is so slight as to be doubtful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. icon
    ibaconi (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 8:31am


    Indeed, it boils down to egoteneoism and matters of furniture are highly unlikely to reach a religious level as is global warming, evolution, liberalism or conservatism for example..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. icon
    A Guy (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 9:21am

    Re: Science is not done by show of hands.

    At least one 10 year study disagrees with your stance on whole grains.

    Maybe the only benefit was the people consumed less of what was actually terrible for them and ate whole grains instead, maybe whole grains are inherently good for you. Either way there does seem to be a benefit for at least some people.

    And here's a paper that debunks your serum cholesterol stance with extensive citations.

    I'm glad we have Google now. Just think, when that study was published it would have taken more than 15 min to debunk people with dangerous medical ideas.

    I didn't bother to look up statins. Someone else can... or not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. icon
    A Guy (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 9:43am

    Explain how and why your position is in my self interest and I will be convinced. Short of that, I'm not known for changing my stances because they usually already align with my self interest.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. icon
    A Guy (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 10:09am


    Just to clarify...

    "Because I will sleep with you if you agree with me" (for some) and "Because I will give you a big pile of money if you agree with me" do qualify as self interest, but you have to state it explicitly instead of implying it through a ridiculous ad campaign.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2011 @ 10:55am


    no, i'm pretty sure those beliefs fall firmly into the "deeply held" category. this is partly because their livelihood is based on the continuation of those beliefs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. icon
    Liz (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 1:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I'm afraid I haven't witnessed any sort of philosophical debate over ice cream flavors, so I'll leave that one to you.

    If you're so involved in picking furniture that it invokes such an emotional response akin to a spiritual awakening, then you have larger, more concerning personal issues than deciding on home decor.

    As for EMTs? I'm told that they are trained for triage, but the determination can be different. The premise is "Save the ones that you can." There are a multitude of situations an EMT could find themselves in from a car wreck to a building fire, to a plane crash to...whatever!

    If you're an EMT and are deferring a choice on who to save based on popular opinion, then you could be as bad as the two who let Brandon Teena die after being assaulted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. icon
    heyidiot (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 1:12pm

    Re: Science is not done by show of hands.

    Hmmmm... even though I know this to be complete nonsense, I'll agree with it as soon as everyone else does.

    I will agree with it for the same reason I always agree with the statement, "These pants don't make me look fat, do they?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. icon
    Greevar (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 4:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Good grief, that is some grade-A nonsense. Who said choices have to be philosophical to apply? Nobody, because they don't. You just pick at the irrelevant details and miss the overall point. You don't care about the merits of this discussion, you just want be "right". That is an excellent example of cognitive dissonance. You've already chosen your point of view as the superior option and you're scraping up any bits you can to rationalize that choice because if it's the "wrong" choice, then you're "wrong" and that creates a conflict to be resolved. You're making my point for me.

    Yes, EMT's are trained to deal with such situations, but to claim that they are impervious to something that is core to human psychology is pure idiocy. Oh, and nice straw man too. I didn't say the EMT is making their choice on popular opinion, you just made that up yourself. I said that the EMT will be conflicted to choose the person who lives because there's no clear best choice for survival. This means the EMT will have to wrestle with that choice the rest of his or her life until they can resolve it, or be traumatized by it. If you actually put yourself in the EMT's shoes for a moment, maybe you would understand and not say such nonsense?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. icon
    Liz (profile), 20 Sep 2011 @ 4:56pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    And here I thought I was addressing the points you brought up. Each point of discussion brings us further and further from the original topic. Now we're entering the round-about phase of repetition. So in essence, the 'debate' between us had already ended.

    With this in mind, I think I'll bow out and leave the now-dated post with a relevant XKCD frame.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2011 @ 4:59pm

    Maybe they just don't want the same stupid sofa everyone else has, even if it is somehow better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. identicon
    kyllikki andersson, 22 Sep 2011 @ 11:10am

    change when in minority?

    I have the courage of my convictions. If there are extenuating circumstances or facts of which I was unaware I will reevaluate position. I do not condone "mob mentality" change.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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