Cognitive Psychology

Persuasion Fatigue: Just in Time to Save the Holidays


Festivus is nearly upon us and Ye Olde Blogge is back up and running just barely in time to help us through the festivities, especially the Airing of Grievances and Feats of Strength. 2022 being an election year makes the Airing of Grievances particularly dicey and no one wants the drunken adult wrestling matches to be fueled by politically divided rage, do they? The Festivus pole is not a weapon. We don’t want to end our evening with visits to the emergency room, shootings, or the police being called. Seriously folks. We don’t.

To paraphrase Smokey the Bear, Only you can prevent Festivus from devolving into a smoking dumpster fire.

So, what insights does political psychology have for dodgy colorful spittle inflected, bits of Festivus meatloaf spewing, sweaty, vein bulging, red-faced political arguments that are bound to erupt this year?

This year we offer a unique solution to our frustrations with the irrational refusal to see reason and use facts that is MAGA, it is persuasion fatigue.

Persuasion Fatigue

Persuasion fatigue occurs when you’ve tried and tried to convince someone of your point-of-view. Typically, such attempts follow a pattern of using logic, facts, and emotion to demonstrate the correctness of your opinion. Typically, when these opinions are about divisive polarized issues, such argumentation not only falls on deaf ears, but invokes a highly emotional reaction. Essentially, you become emotionally and physically depleted by your efforts and it affects your cognition and behavior.

We’ve all seen our Festivus dinners wreaked by your favorite drunk uncle goading your least favorite cousin into a screaming match over the meatloaf and apple pie. As that great social psychologist, Leon Festinger, put it so many decades ago:

A man [sic] with conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.

Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter, When Prophecy Fails

Persuasion fatigue is the flip side of Festinger’s cognitive dissonance coin. Cognitive dissonance occurs in your favorite drunk rage uncle as he clings helplessly to is illogical and unsubstantial positions that even the most casual of indifferent observer could see were WRONG!!1! It is the ability to justify the unjustifiable in the face of persuasive evidence against it.

Your least likable cousin is the one experiencing persuasion fatigue.

Persuasion fatigue is the inability to recognize the reasons your arguments are not succeeding in convincing the other side. It is an exhaustion induced tendency to blame the rampant ignorance and outright jackassedry of your opponent to see reason. #ScienceFact!

It is that feeling of frustration that erupts the third or fourth time you present your side of the argument and drives you to emotional meltdown. It is the cause of the spittle inflected rage that overtakes many of our drunken tryptophan-laden Festivus celebrations.

Preventing Persuasion Fatigued Fueled Feats of Strength to the Death

Fear not intrepid reader, science has some suggestions, specifically coming from Nathan BallantyneJared Celniker, and Peter Ditto in their Scientific American Mind & Brain article, Persuasion Fatigue’ Is a Unique Form of Social Frustration. Here’s what they suggest based on their research.

FATIGUE. Knowing that you are likely to encounter persuasion fatigue, monitor your own level of fatigue. It helps to just label your emotional experience accurately, an emotional regulation technique known as affect labeling. Realizing you are entering the persuasion fatigue zone may help you temper your enthusiasm for making an argument that is likely to go no where and help you become more open to other options.

OTHER OPTIONS. Once you’re moving past the persuasion fatigue zone and considering your own behavior and thoughts — after all those are the only things you can control — you can begin to consider the following:

  • GOALS. What are your goals in this discussion? It is easy to set the bar too high. If you’re trying for total capitulation from your favorite drunk uncle, then you’re likely setting yourself up for a persuasion fatigue-induced funky sulk and you’ll miss out on the Feats of Strength again this year. Consider setting a goal of getting agreement on some of the assumptions that form the foundation for the topic. Agreeing, for example, that none of the other elections besides Biden’s was stolen may help lay the foundation for doubting the Big Lie in the future. Agreeing that vaccines have prevented measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella can help undermine some objection to the #COVID19 vaccines.
  • VALUES AND FEELINGS. We are emotional decision makers. We make all of our decisions emotionally and use our rational brains to justify them. Understanding the emotions that underlie the decision, helps you understand which arguments will be persuasive. It has long been known that we tend to present the arguments that have persuaded us convinced that they will persuade others and are stymied when they don’t. When people don’t share or values and moral opinions, #SceinceFact, we tend to think of them as being stupid and evil. No matter how obvious, it is often not the case. For example, vaccine hesitant parents love their kids just as much as vaccinating parents do. While vaccinating parents may be focused on fairness and science, non-vaccinating parents are focused on purity of vaccines and freedoms to decide. As Joshua Kalla and David Broockman have demonstrated, non-judgmental conversation is much more persuasive on polarizing issues than fact-based argumentation.
  • A ZERO-SUM GAME. We often approach our favorite drunk uncle with the assumption that there will be a winner and a loser. Using their values and feelings as outlined above can help reframe the zero-sum approach to being one of searching for an answer together. Do you really know everything there is to know about the topic? Could your favorite drunk uncle actually have something they could teach you?

Unfortunately putting these preventative measures to persuasion fatigue to use this holiday season might mean that you could find yourself in a position of needing to alter your beliefs, assumptions, and opinions. Are you willing to do that? If not, maybe steer clear of those hot-button polarizing issues during the Airing of Grievances and using kinder gentler Feats of Strengths just to avoid the emergency room, shootings, and the summoning of the police this Festivus.

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Image Attribution

South Vietnam Exhausted Marine – 1967 press photo – by Frank Johnston” by manhhai is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

19 replies »

  1. Another useful piece of advice for avoiding acute persuasion fatigue is to not attempt to debate your favorite drunk uncle when either of you has had more than one glass of wine (or one beer), if that, let alone both. Once everybody is even a little tipsy, just put on one of those sweet Christmas movies (not, “Its A Wonderful Life”), or football.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      Of course, there is no problem that is so big bad and terrible that it cannot be completely resolved by simply doing nothing, including any arguments with MAGA relatives.

      My mother and I never discussed Trump or politics. We stayed to safe topics like sports, nostalgia, and regional issues; we excluded race and economics, too. To this day, I don’t know how she felt about Trump. I like to think that she would’ve rejected him by the insurrection had she lived to see it.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

      • My parents were both life-long New Deal Democrats. I consider it a mercy to them that neither lived to see Trump as President, and especially the Jan6 insurrection. As for other relatives, I can only guess. I hear from one set of cousins not at all, and the other set were raised in the Evangelical Free Church to become missionaries.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          It is both a blessing and a curse to be so estranged from family or to have little family. When family is at its best, when we feel close to our family members and similar to them, it is great. Nothing is better than feeling understood and accepted, and nothing worse than feeling misunderstood and rejected.

          I’m doing a lot of reading in the origins of authoritarianism and one of the root causes is a very narrow definition of who can be considered the same as the individual. Perhaps this dynamic is operative in families as well.

          I’m working on a series of posts exploring not only the origins of authoritarianism but also ways that we can limit the damage they do to liberal democracies. I’m hoping to write up the posts over the next couple of weeks and have sufficient material to post during the rest of December and into January. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but there it is.

          Huzzah!
          Jack

          Liked by 1 person

          • The definition of who is “Us” and who is “Them” is central to authoritarianism. And, whenever there is a competition for leadership in an authoritarian system, the competitors narrow their definitions to their factions (even more so in theocratic systems).

            I’ll be looking forward to those posts.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!

              I guess I’m fixing to learn more than I ever wanted to about DeSantis since he seems to be the one in the best position to supplant Trump. The one knock on him is that he is wooden and not very charismatic. More like a Mike Pence than a Donald Trump.

              I found it amusing that people suddenly realized that after Trump declared and filed to run for the presidency in 2024, he didn’t begin putting together a campaign by hiring a campaign manager or a spokesperson or anything like that. Instead, he raised money. Our political press really hasn’t learned anything from the Trump years or the corporate structure and bottomline edits out those parts.

              With only about a third of the population being vulnerable to an authoritarian appeal, slicing and dicing that constituency may win you the nomination, but it will be hard pressed to win the national election. Hopefully, in the short run that is the thing that stops these folks.

              Huzzah!
              Jack

              Liked by 1 person

              • Trump has always been in it for the money, so that comes first. Besides, the very stable genius doesn’t need anybody to tell him how to run for President. I also think he’s frustrated that DeSantis hasn’t announced he’s running so he has an official opponent.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Howdy Bob!

                  He can’t do anything more than take potshots at DeSantis until he announces; otherwise, he’ll look week. Trump “won” in 2016 by defying conventional wisdom. He saw it as proof that he knows more then everyone else.

                  One way you know that he didn’t plan the coup, he didn’t blab it before hand. What good is it having a super secret diabolical foolproof plot to remain in office, if no one knows? If he knew any more than he blabbed, he woulda told it all. he can’t help himself. He just played his part.

                  Trump is all about the moment. He’s desperate for money, even though he seems to have made a lot. He’s desperate to keep his ego inflated. He’s desperate to stay outta jail and court. All of that comes before actually running for 2024.

                  Much has been made of his lackluster performances when he has been in the limelight. It could be that he’s feeling the cumulative effects of his legal problems and peddling the Big Lie and is 2022 election losses.

                  Huzzah!
                  Jack

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • True, he did not plan the coup. It was day to day improvisation, largely by others in response to his goading and their ambitions. I think he really thought that declaring victory before the votes were all counted would do the trick. After all, he’s been laying the contextual ground work, based on the decades of GOP complaints about imaginary voter fraud, since 2015 (They’re going to steal the election!”). If he had lost in 2016, he would have had his enablers trying to overturn that result.

                    At this point, if he can’t hear the beat of black wings behind him, he’s farther out of touch than ever. And, he is tired. His bounce is gone, and he’s not even pretending that it is about his followers, just all him and the nasty people trying to take him down.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      One of the perennial truths about such an extreme narcissist is that he believes to his soul that exceptions will be made for him. He is so sure of it that he can’t believe that an exception for having lost the election hasn’t yet been made or that it won’t be shortly. He’s caught in the narcissist hell of bouncing between narcissistic wound and puffing himself up with his deep abiding belief that he is a super genius a la Wile E. Coyote.

                      Another thing about authoritarian leaders and their followers is that the followers ty to anticipate the desires and wishes of the leader. All he needed to do is let it be known that win or lose, he expected to remain in office, and people started looking for ways to make that happen. Hell, I started to look for ways they could use to make that happen, and I came up with the same ways.

                      His biggest problem is that he doesn’t have the toadies to inflate his ego any longer. Even Ivanka has abandoned him. It doesn’t matter, though, he’s still scheming. It just lacks the puffed up performance when he had people around him who might could make it happen if they faced no opposition.

                      His narcissistic delusion that he’s always on the cusp of victory will help him quell the sound of the walls closing in. It will keep him going even if it is in this low-energy lackluster performance.

                      What we’re about to watch is something very sad: Trump standing alone except for the very dregs of the desperate hoping to spin his success into their own crying into the wilderness.

                      The biggest concern isn’t 2024, though. It is who bought his NFTs and what did they get in return? State secrets? Money laundered? Because you know it wasn’t no MAGA, Republican Party, or any billionaire supporter buying them.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Among the buyers of the NFTs, what any rank and file MAGAs got was took. For some who are collectors and speculators in NFT, it was an item that might someday be more valuable no matter what happens to Mr. Trump. As for the mystery buyers, they may not have been paying attention to the successful efforts by law enforcement to track cyrpto currency block chain transactions, which is what makes an NFT an NFT.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      I’ve heard talking heads say that the NFT sale was a desperate bid to raise money on his part. His only real income was based off of selling his brand and that is gone now. No one wants the Trump name on anything. I suppose that is true. I’m sure the NFTs appealed to his bloated ego, too.

                      I don’t mean to make assumptions, but I am: I can’t see many MAGAs really understanding NFTs well enough — I don’t quite understand it — to actually then go out and buy them. It isn’t that they don’t have the money. The mean income for Trump voters in 2016 as $70,000-odd a year. Then, again, there are MAGAs who will do it just because he asked them to.

                      Hopefully, someone, somewhere is tracking the money. Trump has never done anything legitimately in his life, I don’t know why he would start now. Everything has been a scam, this is too.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • The hard core MAGAs don’t need to understand a thing to spend money on it. It just needs to have his name on it. And, Trump most likely doesn’t understand NFTs either. So one question is who sold them to him. The NFT offer came on the heels of one of a special “free” hat that came with a purchase of a membership if you didn’t opt out, and then a continuing monthly fee unless opted out or cancelled. Yep, he’s still scamming them and milking them for every penny he can.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      And, they keep letting him. It is “comforting” to realize that the base isn’t growing and may actually be shrinking as well as he has lost enough appeal to “independent” voters that winning is not guaranteed.

                      It will be interesting to see what happens with his taxes, if anything. That is a fiasco that had the Dems held the House might actually bear investigation. I don’t see a Senate committee investigating it, but they could.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I can imagine the Republicans in the House investigating the IRS (They love doing that.) for not auditing his returns and blaming Democrats, conveniently forgetting that they are the ones who have spent a century trying to starve the IRS beast.

                      Liked by 1 person

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