How to Change the Mind of the Most Stubborn Person You Know (Psychology)

Science reveals that this method works best to convince others to see your side.


  • Changing bizarre or entrenched beliefs requires a defined process to overcome change resistance.
  • Some persuasion methods work much better than others.
  • The type of evidence you use in persuasive arguments is crucial.
  • Change can be transitory or enduring based on how you approach the change initiative.

We all have stubborn friends, family, or colleagues who stubbornly hold opinions regardless of evidence to the contrary. Maybe they embrace conspiracy theories or tell you “I have always done it this way,” while harboring bizarre beliefs. Sometimes we get so frustrated by failed persuasion attempts that we feel like banging our heads against a wall, but there are better strategies that work! Humans are resistant to change when it means admitting that existing beliefs or strategies are, indeed, wrong. Fortunately, psychology research shows that some persuasion methods work better than others.

The persuasion process starts with knowing how others respond to “anomalous data” (Chinn & Brewer, 1993), meaning information that disputes their existing thinking. What if I told you that giving people bonuses to incentivize productivity doesn’t work? Unless you agreed, you would probably tell me to mind my business and defend your bonus beliefs. What if I presented you data that indicated performance decreases after a reward is received? Research supports my contention because reward anticipation, not attainment drives performance. Once the reward is received, performance wanes (Lepper et al., 1973). You might say your theory is better, or you might dispute the accuracy of the data I just presented, or maybe you would even say I am entitled to my opinion, but I am indeed wrong. In other words, you have beliefs and a theory about bonuses and so do I. My theory is different than yours and herein lies the age-old persuasion problem!

There are at least seven different ways that people respond to data that disputes their beliefs. Knowing which reason causes resistance helps tailor your persuasion effort, so be sure to figure out which one prevails.

Ignoring data occurs when individuals are highly committed to their own impressions and beliefs. This type of response is frequently observed when people completely discount recommendations. Rejecting data means individuals consider the merits of the information but neglect to change their theory or behaviors related to the topic. Holding data in abeyance is a deferral strategy, suggesting neither acceptance nor rejection of a different approach and signifies the intention to revisit the information later. Reinterpreting data and maintaining existing theory involves consideration of the ideas advanced. During reinterpretation, the information is closely scrutinized, but the individual concludes after evaluation that the information provided was flawed, unclear, or irrelevant, leaving existing beliefs intact. Reinterpretation and revision imply partial modification of one’s thinking based upon the information provided. Acceptance connotes a successful change effort.

The five change steps

Persuasion means overcoming resistance. While there is no secret formula, there are defined steps needed to enhance the probability of effectiveness. These steps are verified by evidence (Dole & Sinatra, 1998), meaning that the 5-step process has been tested and the essential elements described are generally more effective than other forms of haphazard persuasion.

The first step toward a successful change effort is raising awareness. One beneficial approach used to foster awareness is to create cognitive conflict about current approaches. This means that the individual who needs to change must have at least a small about of doubt about the efficacy of their approach. Without some doubt, change is unlikely.

The next step is persuading the individual that plausible alternatives exist. Plausibility means that, at a minimum, the individual is willing to consider an alternative strategy because the recommendation is understood, coherent, and relatively simple and because the proposal is deemed as a potential solution. Plausibility doesn’t mean acceptance, but it does mean the message is understood and could reasonably eliminate the doubt instilled in step one. This means verbally confirming that the plan you are proposing is practical and can work in practice.

Third, refutational evidence promotes the formation of different perspectives. Keep in mind the key role of beliefs. For change to stick you must give people a reason to question the accuracy of their current views and provide them with a compelling reason to make a change. Providing refutational evidence persuades individuals to believe that existing representations are flawed considering inconsistencies with evidence. By instigating doubt, the goal of refutation is to encourage the nonbeliever to relinquish an existing belief in favor of another.

Next, when the individual begins to doubt the merits of their existing view and see that there may be a good reason to change, we must provide relevant alternatives. Relevant implies that the individual perceives that the alternative recommendation as useful and can potentially solve the problem by eliminating the doubt created in step one. Individuals will have a higher probability of change and be more motivated to consider alternatives when the change effort satisfies their personal goals.

Finally, few of us can initiate radical change in isolation. We need help, support, and what psychologists call scaffolding. The most enduring change efforts are those that are conducted with the support of significant others. Assuming the factors of awareness, plausibility, refutational evidence, and personal relevance have been met, the individual is more likely to exhibit the motivation to adopt new approaches.


(1) Chinn, C. A., & Brewer, W. F. (1993). The role of anomalous data in knowledge acquisition: A theoretical framework and implications for science instruction. Review of Educational Research, 63, 1–49. (2) Dole, J. A., & Sinatra, G. M. (1998). Reconceptalizing change in the cognitive construction of knowledge. Educational Psychologist, 33(2–3), 109–128. (3) Lepper, M. R., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. E. (1973). Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward: A test of the “overjustification” hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 129–137.

Provided by Psychology today

Text credit: Bobby Hoffman

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