[FRC Blog] The Backfire Effect

Posted on the FRC Blog, 10/6/2017: The Backfire Effect | FIRST

The Backfire Effect
Written by Frank Merrick

I learned something interesting this week.

Wikipedia has an entry on ‘common misconceptions’ which I found interesting. Before I provide the link, I should give you a warning that one of the misconceptions, out of the many listed, is about the etymology of commonly heard, but vulgar, word. If you think seeing this word will bother you, please don’t click. If you are OK with seeing this word, here’s the link.

I had some of these misconceptions.* I think my reaction on learning corrective information on these topics would be typical of most other people; “Oh, interesting.” I’m happy to have learned something that corrected misinformation I had in my head. But these particular facts are not a big part of my worldview. My identity does not hinge on the shelf life of Twinkies.

If on the other hand, someone was to present me with information that contradicted a belief I held that was a core element of my worldview, that was fundamental to how I saw myself and to the lens through which I viewed the world, I’d have a different reaction. I’d likely argue against or dismiss those facts in an effort to stay psychologically whole.

Not only would I argue against the new information but there is strong evidence I, and just about everyone else in the same situation, would double down on the original beliefs. Presented with contradictory information, beliefs often strengthen. This is called the “Backfire Effect.” It’s real, and it has significant implications in our increasingly contentious world. We have difficult decisions to make, as individual nations and as a whole, with long-term consequences, and need to develop consensus around ‘true facts’ if we want to have a hope of moving forward. The Backfire Effect shows us that simply lobbing more facts at someone with a different position on a key topic is not only often a waste of time and energy, but can also actually be counter-productive.

I learned about the Backfire Effect on the You Are Not So Smart podcast. It was a three-parter, episodes 93, 94, and 95. If you are interested in this topic at all, I strongly recommend them. Not only do they go into detail about the Backfire Effect, but they also suggest ways you can avoid it when making an effort to change opinions. Fair warning; each episode is about one hour long. If you are not sure you want to make that kind of commitment, I get it. You can always just listen to the first 15 minutes of the first episode, and if you don’t think the rest will be worth your time, stop listening. You have the power!

Hope everyone has a great weekend!


*I recognize that Wikipedia entries are not always accurate. My working assumption, in this case, is that most, but maybe not all, of these misconceptions truly are misconceptions.

If you prefer articles over podcasts here’s one from The New Yorker where I initially learned about the Backfire Effect. Interesting stuff.

And if you don’t like podcasts or reading, here’s a comic about the Backfire Effect.

But muh robots Frank! I didn’t come here for a psychology lesson! I came to build robots for less than $4000 in six weeks!

I find the director’s use of the blog platform for something like this to be nothing short of fascinating and endearing.

Thanks for the further readings Karthik, great follow ups to the podcast.

For those who don’t know about this podcast, it is really insightful. A typical episode introduces some topic, usually in psychology, and then delves further into it (then he eats a cookie). Lots of really mind opening and sometimes very esoteric discussions, but interesting nonetheless.

I am curious about why this was posted to the blog though. Was it directed at anything in particular, or was it just to think about how polarizing some discussions become. Interesting post for sure.

I believe it is useful information that most anyone can benefit from. I like these non-robot-related blog posts - I hope Frank does more of them. He’s sharing a bit of his personal life with the community, and I appreciate the openness of it. These kinds of blogs read more like a friend sharing something interesting they found than a director conveying information. I find it rather enjoyable. :slight_smile:

It is with regard to society, not some specific matter. In the quote above, it seems to relay the importance of fact-based discussions, without regards to any particular groups or political persuasions.

Woodie talked at Rocket City about straying from facts in public discourse and how he views STEM education as important to keeping us grounded in reality. Which is how the sentiments and lesson in the blog fit into FIRST. His talk was, as always, interesting – I linked the video starting after he put his papers down: https://youtu.be/yHqrCyakj0M?t=3m2s

Is it bad that the first time I read this blog I was looking for 2018 game hints?

How do you know there aren’t any in this post?

You may believe each round your winning but the points will flip when a team Powers Up and your winning strategy will Back fire.

I could see a game designed like this.

Where balance of the game mechanics is more important than being the best at specific elements.

This is an interesting topic. I am unsure why we are being told of it.

That comic was a lot of reading for an option offered for those not into reading.

There are a lot of good reasons. It’s an important life lesson/reality and also one that has tangential relevance to some of the discussions we’ve had on the boards recently. I don’t know if it has any sort of direct relevance on the upcoming challenge for 2018, but that doesn’t really matter here.

It’s Frank telling us that there will not be a water game this year. Why do you do this to us, Frank? :stuck_out_tongue:

It was, but the hardest part about reading something is getting started. The article is blocks of text, a non starter for lots of people. But the comic starts off with pictures and few words, then once you are hooked, uses more words.

If your audience is visual, the comic works, it gets them engaged at the start. If your audience is engaged they will put up with some extra work, no engagement, no work.

First thing about Presentation Club is we don’t talk about Presenting. We talk about the bait. The second rule of Presentation Club is we never talk about the hook that’s buried in the bait. Hey Foster, read this boring block of text vs Hey Foster, read this pretty fun comic. If you get past the first few panels, you are hooked, and we can move you up along the stream and get you into the net.

Ever wondered why YouTube videos are so popular for science stuff? Hey Foster, need you to read 100 pages on gears. Hey Foster, need you to watch an hour of TV. Reading is boring, TV isn’t reading so it’s fun.

One of my kids was a terrible book reader. But they tore through comics like paper came from trees. So you use comics.

Today’s pro tip is Present Info to people the way they want to see it. May be text in an email, may be text in IM, may be comics, videos, or even hand puppets.

Back to the topic, not sure why Frank posted this. I’m going to guess that this year’s game has some video game crossover connection. And the thing that frosts my flakes is I’m building robots in the real world, why do I want to mess around with video games. So I’m thinking he’s planting the seed about Backfire to get some of us to not just spin and go “stupid video game”.

But in any case, I’m nibbling at the bait, wondering if there is a hook…

Probably has to do with the blog from the previous day.

[quote=“Basel A,post:16,topic:160581”]

Probably has to do with the blog from the previous day.[/quote]

The post about stop build day? Not sure why the lack of consensus about Stop Build Day would cause a post about Backfire Effect?

I vacillate between loving the 6 week build cycle, the season build and the 53 week season that is VEX and hating them. Not strange that a collection of FIRST mentors would also think that too.

But help me connect the dots…

The Backfire Effect: Showing someone with strongly-held ideas and beliefs (core values) something that will challenge those (or show that they’re flat-out wrong) will tend to cause that person to strengthen their beliefs instead of weaken them.

I suspect that “certain people” are so adamant about “no-bag is going to be much better” that Frank is essentially stating: I can’t change your mind, because you’re rejecting the evidence in front of you because you hold this belief so strongly.

(As I pointed out in that thread: 30% is a significant number, but so is 50%. And 50% wants–to one degree or another–to keep the bags.)

Sorry. it appears I’m missing this thread about bag and tag..

If Frank’s post was about bag & tag:

I think it is kind of strange to think people who suggest these decisions have negative effects on their capacity are simply acting in the absence of evidence and emotionally is a bit near sighted. Then again: I think this post was intentionaly vague and people will impose on it what they like beyond the educational value of the post itself.

A lack of consensus does not necessarily mean a lack of sufficient evidence on either side. It can, as easily, be a divide in the circumstances of the experience.

With bag & tag the problem really is: there are multiple ways to arrive at a robot that works within the rules and most of the circumstances of FRC. Some attempts to standardize on certain things can impact perception of the commitment. Perception of the commitment matters because making things appear too difficult is a good reason to avoid them. If there is doubt to the truth in this tell the FTA that next year’s field is 2x more complex to assemble than SteamWorks and no other circumstances will be altered.

A vote among those already commited to a difficulty they already endured is gonna to be ambivalent. I mean you make it from the perspective of your experiences…but you can not make it from the perspective of those that rejected or failed from the circumstances and are not there to vote. Effectively the vote is loaded to the status quo.