I tried to change my brother's beliefs. He gets motivated by some bad ideas. Following my attempt to change his beliefs, his beliefs have become even stronger.

  • $\begingroup$ Are you a psychologian? Psychoterapeutic schools teach how to change beliefs. You have to never hit his sensibility.. $\endgroup$
    – Revious
    Feb 22, 2014 at 20:10

3 Answers 3


It's a little unclear to me from what you've said that your efforts are truly affecting your brother's ideas. It's also unclear whether those ideas are objectively bad, or whether you should be trying to change them. In general, we have to be careful to avoid recommending specific actions for specific people here.

That being said, the general phenomenon you seem to describe is reactance. Excerpts from Wikipedia:

Reactance is a motivational reaction to offers, persons, rules, or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms [(Brehm, 1966; Brehm & Brehm, 1981)]. Reactance occurs when a person feels that someone or something is taking away his or her choices or limiting the range of alternatives.

Reactance can occur when someone is heavily pressured to accept a certain view or attitude. Reactance can cause the person to adopt or strengthen a view or attitude that is contrary to what was intended, and also increases resistance to persuasion. People using reverse psychology are playing on at least an informal awareness of reactance, attempting to influence someone to choose the opposite of what they request...

According to William R. Miller [(2000),] "Research demonstrates that a counselor can drive resistance (denial) levels up and down dramatically according to his or her personal counseling style". Use of a "respectful, reflective approach" described in motivational interviewing and applied as motivation enhancement therapy, rather than by argumentation, the accusation of "being in denial", and direct confrontations, lead to the motivation to change and avoid the resistance and denial, or reactance, elicited by strong direct confrontation [(Miller & Rollnick, 1991)]...

Silvia's 2005 study Deflecting reactance: The role of similarity in increasing compliance and reducing resistance concluded that one way to increase the activity of a threatened freedom is to censor it, or provide a threatening message toward the activity. In turn a "boomerang effect" occurs, in which people choose forbidden alternatives. This study also shows that social influence has better results when it does not threaten one's core freedoms. Two concepts revealed in this study are that a communicator may be able to increase the positive force towards compliance by increasing their credibility, and that increasing the positive communication force and decreasing the negative communication force simultaneously should increase compliance [(Silvia, 2005)].

You may want to follow some of the hyperlinks above. They're all useful concepts for this issue, and may help you understand what you're doing and what your alternatives are. As a general principle, counselors and therapists avoid trying to change others' beliefs and attitudes explicitly and directly. Instead, they focus on understanding their clients, and in the process, they prompt their clients to reexamine themselves and find their own reasons to change. It's subtle yet impressive social jujutsu.


- Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. Academic Press.
- Brehm, S. S., & Brehm, J. W. (1981). Psychological reactance: A theory of freedom and control. Academic Press.
- Miller, W. R. (2000) Motivational enhancement therapy: Description of counseling approach. In J. J. Boren, L. S. Onken, & K. M. Carroll (Eds.), Approaches to Drug Abuse Counseling (pp. 89–93). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Miller, W.R. & Rollnick, S. (1991). Motivational interviewing: Preparing people to change addictive behavior. New York: Guilford Press.
- Silvia, P. J. (2005). Deflecting reactance: The role of similarity in increasing compliance and reducing resistance. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 27, 277–284. Retrieved from http://www.niu.edu/user/tj0bjs1/psyc624/Silvia%20%282005%29.pdf.

  • $\begingroup$ So, would this work as a counter to Denialism? $\endgroup$
    – Malady
    Jun 25, 2016 at 1:12

I would like to put an answer based on my experience in training and coaching others. I used to shoot small video conversations (up to 5 min) and than we analyzed carefully. Analysis took up to 30-40 min. By doing this we could see every small emotional changes during argumentation/communication process.

After 2 years of such experience I can say that the most common mistakes are:

  • when opponents are not ready to change their own position.

Competitive position provokes competition in 50% of cases. So if one wants to influence important to be open to others position. It is hard but really helps to establish partnership and trust.

  • when opponents react and concentrate only at that things said by other you don't agree with. You listen until hearing something to disagree with then you stop listening and start arguing.

It increases stress. It is better to find things to which you both can agree. There are always some points but usually we forget about them especially under high emotions.

  • concentration on rational arguments while preparing to talk and while communicating.

By this you can forget about the person in front of you, about his/her emotional state which is more important than any rational arguments. He or she may be angry at you and hardly listen. To avoid this important to react at your opponents reactions. See him/her nodding or having sceptical grimace? Ask, talk about it.

Otherwise its only in your own head you are a winner with the best arguments ;)

  • when an object of discussion is not reconciled clearly.

Its important to clarify all the details: opponents positions, logics etc.

  • dominating by using "smart" words, phrase constructions etc.

Any type of dominating can provoke negative emotions.

When you start your communication with strong assumptions that someone beliefs are bad and wrong one can feel it and start to protect it.

Partnership, openness, trust, respect, clarity helps to persuade others. The key is attention to emotions of your partner, we are not so rational as we wish to look like. When you really want to understand him/her position it feels and that is where your dialog can start. It sounds simple and even as some basic stuff but it works both in persuading and in establishing good relationship.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You really shouldn't publish novel work here but I really like your explanation and while I cannot validate your results I think your experiment was well prepared and I hope it passes peer review. $\endgroup$
    – user3832
    Mar 18, 2014 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ CogSci expects answers that are based in science, so adding citations to published work would help meet that criteria. (Also, as a note on terminology, it is extremely unlikely that recording and coding video conversations can accurately be called an experiment.) $\endgroup$
    – Krysta
    Nov 6, 2014 at 20:02

For the most part, you don't change people's beliefs. When deeply held beliefs change, it is often due to a change in self image and often triggers further change in self image.

So, asking someone to change deeply held beliefs is tantamount to asking them to change who they are. I agree with the previous replies that you should really question your desire to change someone at that level.

  • $\begingroup$ Curious who gave this answer a negative vote and why. It seems fitting and helpful to me. $\endgroup$
    – pedz
    Aug 11, 2017 at 13:16