I have the honor of featuring another guest post on my blog. This time, we have with us my friend Chenhao Tan. We recently collaborated on an effort to understand how people change their minds on the
Source of this Jupyter Notebook.
One of the many reasons why people are beautiful and fascinating is the way we change. I get reminded of how much I have changed everytime I see a photo of myself from high school, and this always triggers memories of how my opinions and attitudes have changed over the years. Some of the beliefs I held most strongly ended up being abandonded completely, while others have not changed much. *If you’re bored already, scroll down, this blog post has code too!*
Attitude change and persuasion has been an appealing research topic for a long time. One of the more interesting theories on this issue is the backfire effect:
When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.
Earlier studies, however, suggest a lot more nuance. For instance, individuals who affirm their self were found to be more likely to be persuaded by evidence. Studying opinion change in the wild can be difficult. Many times, people change their mind slowly and subtly, over a number of years, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact moment or cause of the change. Also, a change of opinion on a minor, inconsequential topic may not be worth discussing.
We contributed to these efforts by studying
/r/ChangeMyView (CMV), an online forum of civil, open-minded discussion where people invite other members to challenge their more controversial views. If you’ve never visited CMV, the concept that people can debate hot topics without getting into flame wars on the internet might be hard to believe. Or, if you read a lot of Youtube comments, you might be inclined to believe the backfire effect, and doubt that graceful concession is even possible online. But a quick trip to this great subreddit will undoubtably make you a believer.
Some of the more interesting reasons why CMV is a cool lens for the study of persuasion is:
Original posters (OP) select views that are important to them and controversial, but, by posting them there, manifest a de facto openness to counterarguments.
For an OP’s opinion, there are usually multiple, high-quality persuasion attempts, but most are unsuccessful. By comparing challenges to the same person’s opinion, we avoid the trap of actually finding that some issues are easier to challenge than others.
Successful arguments are explicitly marked with a delta (Δ). Hooray for supervised learning!
Even in light of CMV users being open-minded, not all opinions are changed, and not just due to a lack of trying. This gives us a chance to analyze resistance to persuasion.
Taking a look at the dataset¶
I know what you’re thinking, a little less conversation, let’s actually look at some examples. Sure, our pleasure! Let’s download the dataset that we compiled.
Warning: If you’re following along at home, and you don’t already have it, this will download the 321M file
cmv.tar.bz2. We kept the code simple, but the downside is that your Jupyter kernel will be busy until the file is downloaded. If, by any chance, your connection drops or you interrupt it, you will have to remove the partial file, otherwise the rest of the notebook might not work.