Feelings and Facts
People are naturally drawn to stories with compelling heroes, villains, and victims and plenty of conflict, uncertainty, and suspense. When people encounter a type of story called a conspiracy theory, feelings may be more important than facts in making decisions about who and what to believe. In this session, we confront the limitations of reasoning and evidence in daily life and consider the power of stories and emotions to shape our thinking and decision-making.
Why do stories, characters, and conflict change minds?
Learn about why feelings are more important in persuading people than facts, and then discuss:
What are some conspiracy theories that you have encountered recently?
What are the different feelings that these stories evoke for you?
Which of these conspiracy theories are harmless? Which ones are harmful and why?
Discussion Support Tools
Bring this discussion program to your school or community
🍎 Feelings and Facts Lesson Plan. Learn how to help people discuss why people’s decision-making is driven by emotions and why feelings are more persuasive than facts. Access the Google Slide Deck that accompanies this lesson plan.
Reading and Discussion. Learn about how different political viewpoints may affect people’s belief in conspiracy theories.
Address RI state standards with curated curriculum resources
H.HP.1: Identify key people, central ideas, and the mechanisms by which stories are told and retold regarding an event or series of events, centering the voices of historical actors and groups engaged in resistance and change.
H.HP.2: Explain the purpose, audience, and perspective of multiple types of sources (art, music, oral histories, pamphlets, film, texts, etc.) relating to a historical event or series of events, individual, or group of people, including indications of bias toward or against the subject portrayed.
H.HP.3: Analyze multiple types of sources, including art, music, oral histories, pamphlets, film, texts, etc., through a critical reflection of the creators’ and students’ intersectional identities and lived experiences.
😎 Curated List of Resources. A collection of resources for supporting educators looking to teach about how characters, conflict, and narratives of all kinds can shape public opinion and behavior.
What You Can Do
Read "Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds" by Elizabeth Kolbert (New Yorker, February 19, 2017) to learn how new discoveries of the human mind reveal the limitations of reason.
Evaluate Conspiracy Theories with the Conspiracy Chart
Review the Conspiracy Chart which lets you explore recent conspiracy theories and consider their level of harmfulness. See how the chart rates harmfulness – read the news stories about these topics and see if you agree or disagree with their rating on the chart. Use the three critical questions to evaluate the truth value of conspiracy theories:
What is the claim?
What is the evidence source for the claim?
What is the chain of reasoning that links the evidence back to the claim?
When Anger Overwhelms
Since anger is the feeling that can lead to rage that can lead to violence, understanding and managing anger is important. If you have children in your life, watch the video "Just Breathe" with them and have a courageous conversation about anger, or make a glitter jar with them to use when anger overwhelms them or they need a time out.
Teaching the Conspiracies
Retro Report created a lesson on Conspiracy Theories: From the JFK Assassination to Today, an event which was a catalyst for the decline of public trust in government. Consider this: In 1964, when the Warren Report was released, 77% of Americans said they trusted the government to do what’s right. Today, that number has plummeted to under 12%.
The Curious Case of Half-Changed Minds
In the last decades, political and cultural divisions have become baked in our thinking and behaviors in ways that are difficult to notice and overcome. If we want polarization to end, we should take into consideration our half-changed minds.
Mistaking Artificial Intelligence for the Real Thing
AI often uses appeals to emotion, which can be highly effective. Stirring emotions in a target audience is a way to get us involved and create more opportunities to persuade us to take action. We need to step away from the feelings that any image evokes and ask questions about its composition if we are to figure out whether it’s authentic or has been composed intentionally to create certain feelings.
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