Flattery Is A Winning Argument

by Patrick Appel

According to science:

One line of research has found that self-affirmation—a mental exercise that increases feelings of self-worth—makes people more willing to accept threatening information. The idea is that by raising or “affirming” your self-worth, you can then encounter things that lower your self-worth without a net decrease. The affirmation and the threat effectively cancel each other out, and a positive image is maintained.

A 2006 study led by Geoff Cohen, for example, found that when pro-choice people had their partisan identities made salient, affirmation made them more likely to compromise and make concessions on abortion restrictions. Similarly, a study by Joshua Correll found that affirmation led people to process threatening political arguments in a less biased way. More recently, research by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler (PDF) found that self-affirmation made people who supported withdrawing from Iraq more likely to agree that the Iraq troop surge of 2007 saved lives, and made strong Republicans more likely to agree that climate change is real. The takeaway from all three studies is that information is more likely to have the desired effect if, on net, it doesn’t lower a person’s self-worth.