Friendly Persuasion

One deals with voters and one with teen-agers, and, not surprisingly, we find that both are often impervious to reason. But hidden in these studies were some fascinating bits of counter-intuition.

In one study using real-time brain imaging, researchers found that while political partisans tended to shut out information unfavorable to their side, they also were willing to give the other side an extra second of consideration before reverting to type.

In the other study, reported in the subscription-only Wall Street Journal, teen-agers who were thought to feel invulnerable to danger actually overestimate risks and use the rational parts of their still-developing little brains to go ahead and do the wrong thing anyway. Adults, on the other hand, avoid risk not on the basis of reason but on “gut feelings” born of years of experience.

A tentative conclusion that might tie these disparate studies together suggests that positive messages and adult role modeling are far more effective forms of persuasion than just scary facts for both politicians and teen-agers.

Would that we could always tell the difference between them.

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