Seminar – November 15, 2019

Friday November 15, 2019: David Hagmann(Harvard Kennedy School). “Persuasion with Motivated Beliefs”. Pavillon Lionel-Groulx, Université de Montréal, C-4145, 12h-13h.

Abstract : Considerable empirical research finds that people derive utility not only from consumption, but also from their beliefs about themselves and the world. Rather than dispassionately updating their views in response to new information, such belief-based utility implies that people at times avoid information and use other strategies to protect their existing beliefs. We present a two-stage model of persuasion in the presence of belief-protecting strategies and test it in an incentive-compatible task. In the experiment, persuaders seek to shift receivers’ subjective numeric estimates related to emotionally charged topics, such as abortion and racial discrimination. We manipulate whether the persuader first acknowledges her own lack of certainty and whether she first has an opportunity to build rapport with the receiver. Though these elements of communication ought to be irrelevant or even backfire under the standard account, our theory predicts they will enhance persuasiveness. We find that acknowledging doubt leads to a greater change in the receivers’ beliefs, but find no effect for building rapport. Moreover, we find that persuaders end up changing their own estimates after writing a persuasive message. Those who presented a strong argument (as judged by third party raters) end up revising their own estimate in the direction of their argument, while those who provided a weak argument dissuade themselves and update in the opposite direction.

This content has been updated on 17 December 2021 at 2 h 17 min.