Home BiologyImpossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
BiologyBy Joe Burgett -

Have you ever had an altercation with someone in public or online regarding something they said? Perhaps, they came up to you and had an issue with something you said. You’ll then get into a verbal discussion that turns into, basically, one of those impossible arguments that none of us want to be in.

What do we mean by “impossible arguments?”

We’re glad you asked, random reader. An impossible argument is something that occurs when two people get into a debate or argument that turns out to be two people colliding like a car wreck. Basically, neither one of you is going to back down from your belief, and therefore, you will only get mad at one another.

You will both think that the other person is an idiot, with possibly one being right. Of course, neither person could be correct too. In the end, none of this matters because you just wasted your life arguing with someone who was unwilling to even care or listen to your points.

Why are people like this? Why is it that these people are so hard to reach?

Honestly, it’s all psychological and there are ways to combat it. At the end of the day, you need to know what is causing the problem before you attempt to fix things. This is why we’re taking a deep dive into these impossible arguments and how you can navigate around them. Let’s get started!

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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People Aren’t “Idiots” Just Because You Disagree With Them

While we mentioned above how arguments with people can get so problematic that you both may consider the other an idiot, even when that isn’t technically true. If a person is breathing and speaking, then they are not defined as an idiot. This tends to be a general term for a person when we disagree with them. In reality, many people could hold problematic views.

Intelligence does not dictate this. In fact, a math study was done on Gun Control between people who classified themselves as American Liberals and American Conservatives. These people had no trouble with math itself. They were tested to know skill levels beforehand. The study concluded that they generally answered questions incorrectly when the answers did not line up with their beliefs.

People simply chose not to believe something mathematically, not because the answer was too difficult, but because it did not line up to beliefs. A second test found that the higher a person’s intelligence happened to be, the better they are at coming up with a reason to support something. Yet this was only valid, they found, when the intelligent person agreed with the position they were supporting.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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Opinions Can Be Skewed Even When We See The Same Things

One thing you’ll often deal with in impossible arguments is seeing the exact same thing as others, yet have often very different opinions. People will even demand that one thing be done yet then criticize their very concept later on. One example of this is the recent protests regarding Police Brutality.

Sadly, some protests broke out in violence with places being destroyed by rioters who hijacked the protests. This led to people saying, well why couldn’t there be peaceful protests?!? It’s an understandable question to ask, but some of these people were against American football player Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem.

It was a peaceful protest against the exact same thing, police brutality. This comes down to the fact that people want to hate things when it pushes against their beliefs, even when they’re seeing what they want.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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Therein Lies The Rub

The issue with inner beliefs trumping reality was found big-time in a study conducted by researchers from Yale Law School, Cornell Law School, George Washington University Law School, & the University of Pennsylvania Law School. They sat people down to watch a video involving a protest to see how people who classified themselves as Liberals differed from those who said they were Conservatives.

They separated people into mixed-view groups. Each group watched the same video separately but were told different things about it. Half were told that protests involved “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” while the other half was told people were protesting an Abortion Clinic. When told it was about protesting the Abortion Clinic, Liberals claimed that the protestors were violent or disruptive. Meanwhile, Conservatives had the opposite opinion when told the same.

Both, again, watched the same video. Yet they had two different viewpoints. This proved inner beliefs, even with only brief context, can make people develop a position on something. Since the video never technically had a true cause to be behind, people relied on others to tell them something. This causes yet another issue to consider.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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Buying Into Something Without Context When It Connects To Our Beliefs

This is probably the biggest thing young people deal with when discussing things with the older crowd. In part, we cannot get upset with people beyond 50-years-old for this. They are not always privy to the issues of the internet as much as we are today. Heck, some people naturally assume that if it’s on the internet, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Others, however, will buy into whatever they see as long as it lines up with their beliefs. Here’s a scenario for you.

Imagine a friend comes up and tells you they read this article that was from some random site. Let’s just make up a fake one called BieberHater.org. This person does not like Justin Bieber and will, therefore, want to believe he could do some bad things. Even without much context in a report nor any sources, they say Justin smacked an old person in the face because he accidentally bumped into him. Now, to most of us, this sounds horrible.

However, considering the website name and the fact that literally no other website or TV Network covered it, you have natural assumptions it could be fake. They offered no evidence in the report either but your friend here believes it to be true. Even when it’s not, they might still assume that it “could” be possible. This is one of those impossible arguments. They hate Justin so much that regardless of proof, they will still assume this was all possible.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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The Theory Of Repetition

Our brains are hardwired to repetition. The more you do something, the better you get at whatever that happens to be. This is not just the case with something Kinetic like driving or riding a bike. It’s also the case with beliefs. For example, you might be Christian, Jewish, or Islamic. Yet the way one connects to their faith will differ depending on if they grew up in it versus if they went to it later on.

Many things people do in their faith system is likely only present because of family. From the amount of time you visit your place of worship to the traditions connected to it, all the way to ways you might pray. There’s much more to name here, but you get the idea. However, some people do not have a religious family. Their decisions in their faith will be dictated by their own choices.

These people are more likely to accept differing views within their faith. That is mostly because they were not given a foundation set for them to follow at the start. They were not hit with repeated blows of what was “accurate.” They had to think about each step and how it connects to them, not their family. There was no default setting for them like there was for those who grew up in the faith. This is why each faith system has denominations with sometimes wildly different beliefs.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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Why Many Humans Are Closed Minded

When dealing with impossible arguments with people, you’ll naturally assume one thing. This person does not care what you have to say. They might not and this not always a bad thing. If someone tries to make an argument for racism being okay, then you have every right to shut that down and be closed off from hearing their thoughts.

However, there are other opinions or factoids people might have that might be worth your time. The issue is that if you close yourself off from listening, you’ll miss some value. Why do we do this? Psychologically, many actually become closed-minded out of fear. We often assume that if we’re wrong about something, we won’t be okay. Like there is a possible punishment.

We fear that we might be looked at negatively, which then hurts our standing. It is especially an issue for people in college or in jobs with tons of growth. We often feel that it’s not safe to be wrong. However, we can still be wrong about things, then learn from those errors. Closing yourself off to that hurts your growth as a human being. If these same people then teach others to also be closedminded…can you imagine the problems that could come from this?

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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Many Hate What They Do Not Understand

From a psychological standpoint, whenever something differs from what we grasp…we often push against it. This problem happens consistently in areas of Economics, Climate Change, and many other similar topics. People will fight against things simply because they do not understand them.

This happens often in the political world as well as areas of religion, science, and much more. When something is said that differs from normal thought, even if it’s right, those not in the know will push back. They do not know enough to comment, so they will likely lean the direction that they know to be true. This is not because they’re sold on that ideology, but because this was their default knowledge. Our default is what we’re set at initially, but we CAN alter those settings too.

For example, the writer of this article grew up in the 1990s and was told by teachers that Christopher Columbus discovered America. However, we now know he technically did not discover mainland North America. If this writer decided to just believe what he learned then, he’d just be incorrect. His default knowledge needed to be updated, and it was. This is why you should always be open to learning something new about things, especially when you do not understand the field.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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The Echo Chamber Concept

Impossible Arguments tend to happen more frequently when you speak with people who do not hear differing thoughts. To those people, their entire world is the same. From how something is done to why you do something. It’s all set, in place, and ordered for you to follow daily. These people are stuck in an Echo Chamber, hearing only what connects to their ideology and nothing else, each day.

All of a sudden, someone comes in and turns one or more things on its head. Now they are telling you what you believe is not true, that how you do something isn’t best, and why you’re doing it is misplaced. Many of us would push against this because it defeats our entire worldview.

When we are stuck in an echo chamber, we’re only hearing things that connect to our beliefs. This is not a good thing technically, because you’re never challenged. You just believe something because you believe it, there is no reason for it. In a world where you never challenge a belief, you cannot truly believe in it. Why? You’re not thinking critically about the other side of an argument. This belief you hold is then, frankly, not a belief until challenged. You’re just parroting what you heard.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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Group Polarization

Group Polarization is similar to echo chambers, but the difference is that in an echo chamber it is mostly just you believing what you want. There might be others there, like family, but it’s mostly just you. Meanwhile, in Group Polarization, there is an extreme level taken that cannot be overlooked. People will go toward more extreme measures with likeminded people present.

Such as deciding to do something crazy. One example of this is terrorism. Look at ISIS. It began with a small number of people and grew. Once it grew, the group realized it could do more extreme things. Therefore, it did just that and was able to expand and control numerous territories in the Middle East. The same type of group polarization can be seen in jury pools or in the fan-hood of a sports team.

In sports, it can be something as small as a bad chant toward an opposing team or player. However, this too could go toward an extreme. People might decide to attack an opposing team or player. In Professional Wrestling, fans have gotten so out of control that they have attacked or threatened the life of the wrestlers. Groups make people feel stronger and their level of extreme can be problematic. This can create numerous impossible arguments with people involved in these types of groups.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger Effect was coined by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. Their results in their testing were actually fascinating. Their concept comes from something known as Cognitive Bias. This is something that happens when people develop an error in thinking when processing the world around them.

The psychologists found that people with low knowledge or ability regarding a task overestimated their success rate. These people literally assumed, in spite of the facts, that they were more right than wrong. However, the opposite was true with most who had a high knowledge of the same material. In that, they underestimated how well they did in testing.

They concluded that when a person is incompetent at something, they are unaware of their own incompetence. They are unable to recognize where they went wrong. When someone is aware of something, they know there is a possibility they could be wrong. Essentially, people who are overconfident are more likely to be wrong than right based on this.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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But What If We Give Them Money?

One thing people assume is that, if you give someone money to agree with you then they will. In a way, this has proven to be factual from time to time. Just check out the United States Congress, as well as various political institutions worldwide. Even if one is against something, the moment they are paid to agree…they do so. However, very few of us have political or major business power that people want to use.

As a result, most of us claim to stick to our guns even when our opinion might be based on a lie. What if we gave these people money to, maybe, watch videos or take surveys that disagreed with their beliefs? The Journal of Experimental Psychology looked into this. They offered people $7 to read opinions they agreed politically on. Then offered people the alternative of $10 to read opinions they disagreed on.

Across the board between both Liberal & Conservative participants, most picked the “agree” choice. Of course, some will point to the fact that it was only a $3 difference. However, the fact that people chose to turn down extra money just to read opinions they disagreed on is quite telling. This is why impossible arguments are created. People do not want to even look at the other side’s beliefs even when offered money.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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One thing often noticed in Social Psychology is something known as a “whataboutism.” This may not seem like a real word or term, but trust us when we tell you it certainly is. You’ve likely even heard it in action when having a debate or argument with someone. Have you ever made a good point about something, then a person says “well, what about this?”

They change the subject you’re on due to knowing they cannot fight it. Therefore, they jump to something else. For example, you make a point that vaccines do not cause autism. They’ll respond with “what about those who get sick from too many vaccines at once?”

While the subject is still on vaccines, the original was on vaccines and autism…not too many vaccines making a person sick. In this situation, we often create impossible arguments. Every time you make a point they cannot argue, they use a whataboutism to change things around. You cannot debate or argue with people like this because their technique is never to give you credit for a good point. They only want to hear or see what they hold true, and nothing else can defeat that.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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Backfire Effect

This is one of the most horrific things one can deal with, yet we often cause it to ourselves. Impossible arguments are created when the Backfire Effect happens. What is it? We’re glad you asked! When you disprove something that someone believes completely or you prove a point of yours, many people might take this and move on. They’ll learn from the experience.

Yet in the Backfire Effect, a person who truly believes something as true will experience psychologically the same emotion that pain gives us. This will then create a fight or flight response, causing them to hold even tighter to their belief. Now, they will choose to believe the very thing you disproved even more. They will now think you’re wrong even when you’re right.

It does not make any sense, we know. However, it happens all the time. Psychologists believe, after studying it, that some people are unable to change certain beliefs. When you prove those beliefs to be incorrect, those same people are psychologically affected negatively. Therefore, your attempt to prove them wrong, well, “Backfired.” They are now believing their incorrect belief as fact, even when it’s untrue.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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Identity Protective Cognition

This is possibly the hardest thing people have to deal with psychologically. It goes in line, somewhat, with the Backfire Effect yet it’s far more personal than that. Identity Protective Cognition is referred to as a tendency, often found in those that are culturally diverse, to dismiss evidence & selectively credit patterns that connect to the beliefs that dominate their specific group.

This is often done subconsciously because we assume that anything considered negative regarding our specific group could not possibly true. Meanwhile, we’ll overly credit our same group even when it might be undeserved. This happens quite often in politics yet it can also happen with fans of sports teams or specific players. Identity Protective Cognition makes us resist facts because we only believe information from those we love and/or trust.

Even when that information is untrue, we’ll fight against it because it’s now a part of us to believe something. This will happen in religion, especially among extremists. It was also common among the Nazis. When questioned after WWII, many claimed they were just following orders while others firmly believed in the cause and downplayed the insane number of Jewish people killed. Others bragged about the number. All because they were sold on Hitler’s message, in spite of its horrific ways.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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How Do We Actually Get Through To People In Arguments Or Debates?

This is often the hardest question to answer because there are, frankly, many ways this can be done. From a science perspective, we have shown you the pitfalls of why you cannot get through to people. That means you have to walk a very tight line here. If not, you’ll obviously enter the impossible arguments territory and you don’t want that.

How can this be done? Simple. You have to know how to go on the attack without actually attacking. This may not make much sense but think of it as if you’re a spy. A spy is there to blend in and possibly take out a target. Other times, he or she is there to gather information to take back to their commanding officer. No matter what, they cannot look out of place.

The moment you stand out, attention is gathered upon you and now you’re stuck. Some spies are able to get out right then and exit before too many people notice. Others are caught and punished. This is why in an argument or debate, you have to come across as a friend and never an enemy. However, there are other specific ways you can handle things too.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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Validating Points Can Lead To More Belief

It might sound crazy to validate a crazy belief someone has. However, the moment you’re able to do this…you’re fitting into their circle of friends. They are more willing to listen to you, removing impossible arguments from the table. Take a conspiracy theorist, for example. Let’s say they believe that the Moon Landing was faked. It wasn’t and we have plenty of proof of this, but let’s pretend to validate.

You could say that, yes, NASA and the Russians have done a lot of things that make us question them. At the same time, we can look up and see that it’s possible to go to the Moon too. You can then get onto the topic of old movies and cameras as well as light technology. From here, you can help them understand how tech was not exactly capable of faking the moon landing.

Not to mention, everyone had to keep that a secret. Even those who are space rivals to us. In this format, you’re giving them the experience of discussing things indirectly connected. You validate that there could be a lot of misinformation then slowly lead them down a path to where you disprove their belief, taking them along for the ride. This, in turn, makes a person feel that they landed at the conclusion themselves. No one attacked them for their belief, in this case.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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We Connect Ourselves To What Is Easiest

A lot of the time, people do not think things through and land on what they assume is the easiest and therefore best concept to something. This is more so common in younger people, like teenagers or just kids in general. To them, the best concept is always the easiest. They have not learned, yet, about other concepts and their work ethic is often not where it needs to be.

Sadly, some people do not grow out of this. That is why it is important that you understand these types of issues among people you have a debate or argument with. Impossible arguments are created when you do not understand the person nor why they believe as they do. This is just as important as anything else. Learn how to talk to them, always making sure you connect in the way they best understand.

If a person is, say, homeschooled. They’d never be able to truly understand the experience of a High School. Therefore, they cannot speak to the difficulties of social issues within High Schools. Attempting to do so won’t go over well for them. That is why you have to understand this and calmly inform them of how things are. Going on the attack doesn’t help anyone here.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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Build A Rapport

It is very important that you avoid impossible arguments by simply building a rapport with someone. You can have deep disagreements with people yet still get along with them. This was proven at the “Difficult Conversations Laboratory” within Columbia University.

Psychologist Peter T. Coleman claimed that people can have productive conversations even in disagreement. He said the best way to do this is to build up goodwill with the person. When you can find common ground and agreeable material, that helps for sure. However, also just being able to talk to someone like they are human is terrific too.

People do not want to just be a person’s punching bag. This is why they are more willing to listen to friends about controversial topics over a random guy on Facebook. Their friend built up a good rapport. Therefore, they do not often have impossible arguments with their friend. See what we mean? A connection is incredibly important when you want to have difficult conversations with people.

Impossible Arguments: Psychological Reasons Why People Will Not Change their Minds
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Stay Calm Through The Storm

Perhaps, the best people who do this work in Late Night Television. People like Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, and previously people like Jon Stewart. Each man brought or currently brings extreme calm when discussing difficult topics with guests. Noah is likely the best at it today. Many of his guests get animated and he has to try to calm them down, often creating a great level of correspondence between both people.

He’s not doing this just so they will hear his point. He is doing this because it takes away the animation someone has. Instead of getting louder and causing essentially a screaming battle, calmness takes them down. Impossible arguments are created in these screaming battles. No one gets anything through and eventually, both will be too angry to listen to the other side.

When you aren’t screaming, you’re not attacking. You’re taking away any ability for one to be angry. They know when you’re calm that you’re listening to them. Even if you’re not, you’re sending that message. Therefore, they’ll be far more willing to listen to your points too. At this point, you’re not debating or arguing…you’re discussing. That is something we’re all cool with.