Think about how change would benefit quality of life
People who hold strong views about complex social issues have a tendency to examine evidence in line with their opinions; believing evidence that supports their opinion and discrediting evidence which does not.20 In fact, in people who hold strong opinions, providing information that debunks myths can cause them to act in the opposite way intended (this has been called the backfire effect).21 However providing information about the risks of not doing something, doesn’t seem to have this effect.22 This may be because people tend
to dislike losses more than they like gains of the same amount.13 Based on this, it has been suggested that if actions can be portrayed as avoiding losses or preserving the way of life, that denial and resistance to change can be overcome.
It may be beneficial to frame arguments in terms of their benefits (see box, below) or with suggestions for appropriate actions people could take (without taking a stance which clearly intends to persuade or convert the reader to a particular opinion).
This strategy could be enhanced by findings from research which indicate that people are more open to approaches which indirectly reduce inequality if they are framed as improving their quality of life. People who were not generally interested in reducing inequality were happy to reduce their income for shorter working hours, or to pay more tax for better public services. Looking at the possible effects of income inequality on the rate of social problems, such as crime, also increased the likelihood of inequality being seen as a problem. This also increased people’s willingness to support measures to tackle it.4 So perhaps solutions which propose improving the person’s or community’s quality of life, through the reduction in social problems caused by social inequalities, may engage a wider range of people.
Reducing inequality benefits everyone
Research indicates that inequality changes the way that people engage with one another on a societal level.23 Communities with higher levels of inequality are less likely to help each other in acts of altruism, engage in the political process and have lower levels of cultural activity. Rates of violence are also higher in more unequal societies. Based on this, reducing inequality would benefit all people in society, not just those currently disadvantaged. For example, high levels of inequality in neighbourhoods leads to the development of gated communities, where the rich may be afraid to go out and use public space or to talk to their neighbours. Although they may live in individual comfort, they lack the freedom to go outside without being fearful.
20 Lord, C. G., Ross, L. & Lepper, M. R. (1979). Biased assimilation and attitude polarization: The effects of prior theories on subsequently considered evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 2098-2109.
21 Nyhan, B., Reifler, J., Richey, S. & Freed, G. L. (2014). Effective messages in vaccine promotion: A randomized trial. Pediatrics, 133(4), e835-e842
22 Horne, Z., Powell, D., Hummel, J. E. & Holyoak, K. J. (2015). Countering anti- vaccination attitudes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(33), 10321-10324.