When I told my friend about this new research that suggested “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” may be a myth, she retorted “Well, tell that to my stomach!”
She, like so many others, swears that gluten makes her ill. After years of experiencing seemingly random bouts of bloating, diarrhea, brain fog, dizziness, and hormone imbalance, she discovered that the protein gluten – which is found in wheat, among other things – was making her sick.
I’m no food expert – or Food Babe – so I won’t comment on the validity (or invalidity) of her claim…
…but I do write about psychology. And after watching how people responded to this new research, I couldn’t help but scratch my head. Here’s why:
This research didn’t change anyone’s mind about gluten sensitivity. The people who thought it was a myth screamed, “haha, I knew it!” And the people who thought it made them sick screamed “That study is wrong!” And what we’re left with is a perfect illustration of the psychology of belief.
As business owners and entrepreneurs, we’d be silly to ignore it… because it shows us that when people hold steadfast to their beliefs, we can’t persuade them with research or data. We have to persuade them with something else.
The Psychology of Belief
Even if gluten sensitivity is a myth, it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. I’ll tell you why. I’ll also unearth one key principle about persuasion.
But first, let me share the curious story about that time when doctors were killing women in a world-class hospital.
As Stephen J Dubner shares, in 1847, at the Vienna General Hospital, doctors were killing women. But they didn’t realize it. That same year a young Hungarian-born doctor named Ignatz Semmelweis joined the staff and here’s what he discovered…
There were two maternity wards: one staffed by male doctors, the other staffed by female midwives. The death rate in the midwives maternity ward had a far lower death rate. At the time, one theory was that birthing mothers were fragile and being seen naked by a male doctor was enough to kill them.
But Semmelweis knew something was wrong. And that’s when he realized, after an autopsy, doctors were carrying “invisible cadaver particles” from dead bodies to the women giving birth. And he believed these particles were killing the women.
So he decided to test his theory. He suggested that all doctors wash their hands in chlorine solution before assisting a woman giving birth. And when the doctors did, the rate of maternal death plummeted.
Great. Problem solved, right?
His hand-washing procedure was rejected by the medical community, often for non-medical reasons. Some doctors even got insulted, and they refused to believe a “gentleman’s hands could transmit a disease.”
The immediate disbelief from his contemporaries is now known as the “Semmelweis reflex,” which is the the tendency of people to reject new evidence because it contradicts established norms and beliefs.
What’s even more sad is this: it took another 20 years for hospitals to adopt the hand-washing procedure before delivering babies. Countless lives were lost because people refused to accept the truth.
Now, I’m not sure if non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a “life or death” issue. But why do people exhibit this “Semmelweis reflex” when confronted with new research about gluten sensitivity?
And why should you – a business owner, entrepreneur, or startup who’s looking to change the world – care?
Here’s The Big Reason Why People Don’t Change Their Minds When Confronted With New Data
It’s proven that when we’re confronted with information that supports our beliefs, we’re more likely accept that information. And when we’re confronted with information that opposes our beliefs, we’re more likely to ignore – or attempt to disprove – it.
In one case we’re dealing with confirmation bias, and the other we’re dealing with disconfirmation bias. And in the case of this gluten research, what we’re seeing is known as “attitude polarization.”
Back in 1979, researchers carried out an interesting experiment. They got together two groups of people: one group that supported capital punishment, and another group that opposed it. The researchers then provided these people information that either support or opposed their opinions. What happened? People didn’t change their mind. They instead tended to hold their original belief more strongly.
That’s attitude polarization, and it’s why I always say, “You can’t convince people of anything. You can only hope you provide enough information so that they convince themselves.”
In the gluten sensitivity debate, attitude polarization runs rampant. Research and data be damned. If you’re not with me, you’re against me and you’re wrong. A gentleman can’t carry disease on his hands. And a “hater” is born.
As business owners, entrepreneurs, and startups who are looking to change the world, we can’t ignore this. We may try to convince people to buy something that goes against their previously held beliefs about themselves and the world. To convince them, it’s in our nature to “kill them with data.” But as you can clearly see, that NEVER works. Data doesn’t change minds. Especially when that data may embarrass people.
You see, over the last few years, people ran around telling their friends “I can’t eat gluten because I’m sensitive to it.” If data suggests gluten sensitivity doesn’t exist, the people who said these things may feel dumb, silly, or worse, “crazy.”
So these people have vested interest in discrediting the new research at all costs. Some say, “I still get sick.” Others will seek to point out what they perceive as a flaw in the research.
And I appreciate the pushback. The pushback should fire up researchers to run more experiments to find the truth.
Here’s the problem: the counterpoints are raised by people who have a belief and they’re desperately grasping on to their previously held belief.
And as in the case with doctors, and the case with my friend, it doesn’t matter if you’re an expert or a layman, you’re susceptible to putting on a blindfold and ignoring the truth. Even if another credible expert is the delivery vehicle of that truth.
When this gluten study got published, the only REAL response to it should be: “Wow, that’s interesting. We need more data, but maybe he’s right.”
But that’s not what happens. And that’s because, when you want to persuade people of something, you must remember this:
Before You Can Win Their Minds, You Must Win Their Hearts
Master salesmen have known this for 100 years. And persuasion psychology research over the last few decades continues to confirm it.
Before you start pummeling people with data, you must first win over their emotions. Because people change their mind when they feel as if they should, and they justify the change with data.
And that’s why when you’re selling anything – a product, an idea, a service, or anything – you must first focus on getting people to feel the way you feel first, and then you can show them the data to back it up.
Ever wonder why the 1984 Apple commercial remains one of the BEST commercials to date? Because Apple nailed down the fear that IBM was at risk of taking over the world… and buying Apple will help you stop it.
Or have you ever thought about the bidet-style toilet seat (a Japanese toilet seat)? They’re widespread in other countries, especially Japan. But Americans hate them because “they’re gross.”
But that didn’t stop companies from trying to win over Americans. They often ran advertisements that said things like “they use less water (1.3 gallons vs 4 gallons), they’re more hygienic, and etc.” And those advertisements failed miserably. Americans don’t reject the bidet because of logic. They reject it because of emotion, much like doctors rejected hand-washing, and the gluten-sensitive rejected the gluten sensitivity myth.
The solution, then, is to first win over their heart, and then their mind.
If I were a bidet company, I’d ditch the data in the advertisements. Instead, I’d think about my target market, and their hopes, fears, and dreams. And I’d start small.
For example, I’d first go after the coveted 25-35 demographic with discretionary income to spend on things like a bidet. I’d make a simple advertisement that depicted a picture of a man on a date. This man takes his date back to his apartment, uses the bathroom, and discovers unfortunate brown streaks on his underwear.
Guess what? Ain’t nobody want to find brown streaks on their underwear while they’re on a date. They could even create an instagram campaign #endbrownspots. The fear alone would be much more persuasive than “uses less water.”
Now I can’t speak to the effectiveness of a commercial like this without testing it. But this is the embodiment of the point: data doesn’t persuade people who reject something for emotional reasons. So as a business owner, entrepreneur, or startup, it’s your job to meet them on the emotional battlefield, win them over there, and then take them back to the laboratory.
What’s the key takeaway for people like you – entrepreneurs, business owners, and startups looking to change the world?
Attention: If You’re Looking to Persuade People, Here’s What You Must Never Forget
If people have an emotional aversion to whatever it is your selling (whether it’s a product, service, or idea), data and research alone will fail to change their mind.
Instead, you need to figure out where this emotional aversion is stemming from and appeal to that. And you’ll find that convincing a prospect to buy, a person to support your cause, or even persuading your husband or wife to do some chores, will become MUCH easier.
How can you do this?
1. Get into the hearts of your readers and prospects.
Figure out why they believe what they believe. And why they disbelieve what they disbelieve. If you believe your solution (whether it’s in the form of a product, service, or idea) can solve their problem, then it is your duty as a business owner and entrepreneur to do whatever it takes to appeal to them so you can truly help. It’s not manipulation. It’s essential for the progress and protection of your ideal customer.
For the people who are “buying it,” ask them WHY. What persuaded them to take the leap? What did you do that appealed to them most?
For the people who aren’t “buying it,” again, ask them WHY. How did you turn them off? What could you have done differently to appeal to them more? What are they struggling with that they think your product won’t solve?
The information you get from them will be priceless and can make a HUGE difference in your sales copy, product launch, blog and business.
2. Tailor your copy to appeal to their reasoning.
Like I said, when people hold steadfast to a belief for reasons beyond logic, no amount of data or research will work to persuade them otherwise.
No amount of “saving water” or “more hygienic” will convince Americans that they should invest in the bidet. Why? Because they think it’s “gross.” So, appeal to them with something “grosser.”
After you do the research and really get into the hearts of your readers and prospects, you’ll have new vocabulary, new appeals, new reasons, straight from their mouths (or fingers), to use in your copy.
My question to you is this:
What examples can you recall where people ignore the facts and focus on their feelings? Knowing what you know now, how would you change their mind? Leave a comment.
Also if you know someone who can benefit from this, whether they’re a foodie or an entrepreneur, pass this article along to them.
And if you’re looking to build an audience of fans and customers, check out my free ebook “How to get your first 5,000 subscribers.”
Note: If you’re curious about the research I was referring to earlier in the article, here you go . I’m putting it down here because people kept thinking I endorsed the research. I’m only commenting on how people respond to it.