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Is It Really Possible to Change Someone's Beliefs?
Ideology doesn’t bend to reason, says Professor Barbara Oakley. Here's why we can't really change what other people believe, and why that brand of "helping" others can backfire.
Barbara Oakley, PhD, is a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, and Ramón y Cajal Distinguished Scholar of Global Digital Learning at McMaster University. Her research involves bioengineering with an emphasis on neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Alongside legendary neuroscientist Terrence Sejnowski, Dr. Oakley teaches two massive open online courses (MOOCs), 'Learning How to Learn,' the world's most popular course, and 'Mindshift,' the companion course to her most recent book of the same title.
Barbara Oakley: It’s hard to know how you can change a person’s mind or opinion. And the reality is you can’t. I mean, a change has to come from within that person. And sometimes that change only comes when you have the experience or that person has the experiences themselves.
So again harking back to my old days of working with the communists. In Communist China there was some really, there were some horrific things taking place with Mao during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. But before that time even there were a lot of atrocities that didn’t get heard because if you talked about them they’d kill you. So in more open and western approaches to government, there was a lot of criticism of the bad things going on. And in communist systems there was none. And so it was easy to imagine that they were great systems.
So people who had come from the communist side in China and they were trying to convince others that wait a minute, no. You don’t want this type of totalitarian system in your life. You don’t want to bring it there. They would talk and talk and talk and it made no difference at all because the people couldn’t imagine what kind of experiences there were. It’s the same for the Jews during the Holocaust. I mean people just didn’t believe what was going on. So sometimes it’s just, it’s hard to imagine how you can change a person because you really can’t unless they’re experiencing the kinds of things that you’ve seen and you’ve encountered.
But at the same time it’s important to be aware that your own good intentions can also lead you astray. So what do I mean by that? There was a wonderful study done and published in the 1970s by Joan McCord. And what she did was she went back and looked at an old study in the 1930s of Boston school boys, 500 of them. They split them into two groups. One was the control group, they did nothing to them. The other group was given every possible advantage. They had counseling, summer camps, they got extra tutoring. Just medical assistance, even assistance for the family. It was really about the best you could imagine. Thirty years later Joan McCord followed up on those two groups. One group had significantly higher rates of suicide, alcoholism, drug use. They were in jail more. They ended up in lower class jobs. I mean it was just sort of every sort of bad thing you could imagine. They had significantly higher proportions of people who had this kind of thing happen to them. And which group was that? It was the group that got all the help. And what was interesting was that the people involved in the study were convinced that they were helping that group. But it backfired and it was only when they really went in and looked carefully at the data that they found that this wonderful helping was making the researchers and the participants feel very good. But it was actually harming the boys that they wanted to help.
So some of my research involves pathologies of altruism and that is sort of this road to hell is sometimes paved by good intentions. It’s very important to be aware that sometimes you can be totally convinced that you are helping and that what you’re doing is the right and good thing for others. And unless you’re willing to sort of let that stand up to scientific scrutiny you’d just be surprised at how you are sometimes incorrect and there are other ways to help that are maybe not so obvious and maybe don’t make you feel so good but actually that truly help.
The two things you simply cannot do are probably the two things you most want to: change someone, and help them. Barbara Oakley, an engineering professor who teaches the world's largest online open class, knows this intimately: when she was teaching in China, "working with the communists" as she says, people had tried to warn others about the dangers of communist totalitarianism before the Great Leap Forward. Nobody listened. Ultimately discussion isn't enough to sway people's beliefs — for any slim shot at that, says Oakley, you have to give people new experiences, not just facts. But should you always be trying to change others, anyway? "Your own good intentions can also lead you astray," says Oakley, whose research involves pathologies of altruism. Could altruism be a behavioral disorder? A study from Boston in the 1930s that was followed up in the 1970s imparts an important lesson on why thinking you know best for others can be anything but a help, and that if a good deed feels good, it might be a red flag that you're only helping yourself. Barbara Oakley's most recent book is Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential, and you can find the Mindshift course here.
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- Wheal dives into the cutting-edge technology and science that the navy uses to prepare these individuals. Itzler shares his experience meeting and briefly living with Goggins (who was also an Army Ranger) and the things he learned about pushing past perceived limits.
- Goggins dives into why you should leave your comfort zone, introduces the 40 percent rule, and explains why the biggest battle we all face is the one in our own minds. "Usually whatever's in front of you isn't as big as you make it out to be," says the SEAL turned motivational speaker. "We start to make these very small things enormous because we allow our minds to take control and go away from us. We have to regain control of our mind."
Is focusing solely on body mass index the best way for doctor to frame obesity?
- New guidelines published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal argue that obesity should be defined as a condition that involves high body mass index along with a corresponding physical or mental health condition.
- The guidelines note that classifying obesity by body mass index alone may lead to fat shaming or non-optimal treatments.
- The guidelines offer five steps for reframing the way doctors treat obesity.
A new 5-step system for treating obesity<p>To help primary care practitioners better treat obesity, the doctors outlined five steps:</p><ol><li>Recognition of obesity as a chronic disease by health care providers, who should ask the patient permission to offer advice and help treat this disease in an unbiased manner.</li><li>Assessment of an individual living with obesity, using appropriate measurements, and identifying the root causes, complications and barriers to obesity treatment.</li><li>Discussion of the core treatment options (medical nutrition therapy and physical activity) and adjunctive therapies that may be required, including psychological, pharmacologic and surgical interventions.</li><li>Agreement with the person living with obesity regarding goals of therapy, focusing mainly on the value that the person derives from health-based interventions.</li><li>Engagement by health care providers with the person with obesity in continued follow-up and reassessments, and encouragement of advocacy to improve care for this chronic disease.</li></ol><p>Insider noted that some health professionals and body-positive advocates don't think the guidelines go far enough in reframing obesity treatment. The update still points "to individual bodies as the problem, not culture," registered dietitian <a href="https://www.bodykindnessbook.com/" target="_blank">Rebecca Scritchfield</a>, told <a href="https://www.insider.com/canada-doctors-obesity-should-be-defined-by-health-not-weight-2020-8" target="_blank">Insider</a>.</p><p>But it's also possible to see how some health professionals may worry this new model could discourage patients from taking the initiative to tackle weight-loss on their own, through exercise and dieting.</p><p>In a 2020 opinion piece published in <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2020.00002/full" target="_blank">Frontiers in Nutrition</a>, Dr. <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/people/u/69229" target="_blank">Elliot M. Berry</a> argued that misplaced "medical and political correctness" may lead to the abrogation of the physician's responsibility to properly care for patients.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"For example, some doctors are now even reluctant to raise the issue of obesity lest they be accused of fat shaming by not accepting their patients' proportions (despite the quote at the head of this opinion piece), and thereby receive poor approval ratings in an atmosphere where popularity is equated with good healthcare."</p><p>Berry offers a list of nine steps that he thinks could help the healthcare industry better treat obesity, without shaming patients or falling prey to political correctness.</p>
Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.
- The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
- Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
- The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Seriously sustainable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDIzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjM4NTMzMX0.BCEfYnn6C3z1zUHIS38xOWjXktgamNBi5iyqklSMYK8/img.png?width=980" id="ea524" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="50533380eeb18eb5833b6b6aa3abec38" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>Solar Foods makes Solein by extracting CO₂ from air using <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90356326/we-have-the-tech-to-suck-co2-from-the-air-but-can-it-suck-enough-to-make-a-difference" target="_blank">carbon-capture technology</a>, and then combines it with water, nutrients and vitamins, using 100 percent renewable solar energy from partner <a href="https://www.fortum.com" target="_blank">Fortum</a> to promote a natural fermentation process similar to the one that produces yeast and lactic acid bacteria.</p><p>When the company claims its single-celled protein is "free from agricultural limitations," they're not kidding. Being produced indoors means Solar Foods is not dependent on arable land, water (i.e., rain), or favorable weather.</p><p>The company is already working with the European Space Agency to develop foods for off-planet production and consumption. (The idea for Solein actually began at NASA.) They also see potential in bringing protein production to areas whose climate or ground conditions make conventional agriculture impossible.</p><p>And let's not forget all those <a href="https://www.bk.com/menu-item/impossible-whopper" target="_blank">beef-free burgers</a> based on pea and soy proteins currently gaining popularity. The environmental challenge of scaling up the supply of those plants to meet their high demand may provide an opening for the completely renewable Solein — the company could provide companies that produce animal-free "meats," such as <a href="https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/" target="_blank">Beyond Meat</a> and <a href="https://impossiblefoods.com" target="_blank">Impossible Foods</a>, a way to further reduce their environmental impact.</p>
The larger promise<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDI0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjU4MTg2OX0.7dZZYT5WEV_EupBuLVFwHynarTiz8RYR9aJtC6Ts2C4/img.jpg?width=980" id="3415d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e6eebe06d795f844752f9e9d30040d7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>The impact of the beef — and for that matter, poultry, pork, and fish — industries on our planet is widely recognized as one of the main drivers behind climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and antibiotic-resistant illness. From the cutting down of rainforests for cattle-grazing land, to runoff from factory farming of livestock and plants, to the disruption of the marine food chain, to the overuse of antibiotics in food animals, it's been disastrous.</p><p>The advent of a promising source of protein derived from two of the most renewable things we have, CO₂ and sunlight, <a href="https://solarfoods.fi/environmental-impact/" target="_blank">gets us out of the planet-destruction business</a> at the same time as it offers the promise of a stable, long-term solution to one of the world's most fundamental nutritional needs.</p>
Solar Foods' timetable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MTEzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTU1OTMwMn0.wnXh56iO_77x2XKV2uIPf78BKw4AJLUpmiyq_JBVGvo/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=172%2C146%2C62%2C135&height=700" id="0297c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="125c9a98ec818f5c241fa28ef1423e67" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Lubsan / Shutterstock / Big Think<p>While company plans are always moderated by unforeseen events — including the availability of sufficient funding — Solar Foods plans a global commercial rollout for Solein in 2021 and to be producing two million meals annually, with a revenue of $800 million to $1.2 billion by 2023. By 2050, they hope to be providing sustenance to 9 billion people as part of a $500 billion protein market.</p><p>The project began in 2018, and this year, they anticipate achieving three things: Launching Solein (check), beginning the approval process certifying its safety as a Novel Food in the EU, and publishing plans for a 1,000-metric ton-per-year factory capable of producing 500 million meals annually.</p>
The protein powder Solein. Image source: SOLAR FOODS
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