“Insulting people does not work, if your objective is to persuade.” – Trey Gowdy, In a speech at Liberty University, November, 2016
In 1967, two researchers from Yale University conducted an experiment using various techniques for attempting to persuade people of a certain proposition and, in particular, to change their minds about a belief they held prior to the experiment.* What they found was that not only was insulting a person ineffective in changing their minds, but it actually boomeranged and “increased the extremity of [their] initial attitude position.” Since this experiment, numerous other studies and experiments have confirmed this finding.
Of course, we all know intuitively this is true. When in your life have you ever seen a person who has been insulted suddenly change their mind?
I could not find any academic literature on the effect of partisan insults on independents. But the polling does show that as partisan rancor has grown, fewer American have chosen to identify with either party. A Gallup poll last month showed that 45% of American now identify themselves as independent.
Nonetheless, there appears to be something deeply satisfying to some people to scream insults at their partisan rivals. And, of course, social media has given the angry a place to vent their spleens as never before.
So, to my partisan friends, if your your objective is to intensify the other party’s opposition and turn off independents, insult away.
* Robert P. Abelson & James C. Miller, “Negative Persuasion via Personal Insult”, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, October, 1967.