In a recent New York Times article entitled “The Mind of a Flip-Flopper,” Maggie Koerth-Baker investigates some of the research done on how and why human beings change their mind. The research tells us that with the exception of politicians running for national office, core values and opinions are much harder to change than Mitt Romney’s changes of heart might lead us to believe. According to the article, people change their minds all the time, but tend to do so far less often when the stakes are high. Certain beliefs are so tied into an individual’s cultural or social identity that changing opinions is akin to changing who we are. That is why rational arguments tend not to work. But interestingly, the research suggests that humans are much more likely to change their opinions through an emotional appeal than a logical one.
In an experiment in 2006, researchers from Ohio State University and Colorado State showed that watching a TV drama about capital punishment could change the minds of the students who watched it. The students who watched a particular drama on the subject were more likely to support the death penalty whether they were liberal or conservative than students who did not watch the drama. According to Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor who studies how and why we change our minds and behaviors, stories have far more impact on us than facts.
Think about this, all ye theatre practitioners! All you who are playwrights, and actors, and designers; we who are charged with the telling of stories for the stage! We have a tremendous amount of potential power at our disposal. We carry the tools to tap into emotions. We have the power to change the attitudes and opinions of the hardest hearts and most adamant minds. We can change the world, one mind and one heart at a time—through what we write for the stage and what we do on it. We can help bridge the gap that seems to divide us as much as ever before. We have that power. Let us use it effectively and wisely.