Don’t Think Of An Elephant!

Don’t Think Of An Elephant!

If i tell you: Don’t think of an elephant!
What did you think about? Bingo, you thought of an elephant.

Campaign communication research very evidently shows that the more someone is exposed to a message, the more that message will stick in their mind and be considered true. This works unfortunately also if the message is denied.

In other words, directly responding to something by saying “x isn’t true” simply reinforces the original belief in someone’s mind. Asking people not to think of a stereotype about a stigmatised group (eg. “we are not promiscuous!”) has been shown to simply make that stereotype more prominent in people’s minds.

This means that when trying to correct a misunderstanding that the public holds on an issue, it is a bad idea to deny something. Denials and clarifications that are meant to clear up rumours can actually reinforce them because they require repeating the false information.

In practice this means that your campaigns should not aim directly at responding to the opposition.

This can be an incredibly hard thing to do in practice, especially if the opposition uses lies and slur.

The easiest option is of course to shunt the conversation altogether and to stay on track of your own line. We’ll talk more about this a bit later.

But sometimes the attack is so harsh that not responding would make us sound like we implicitly give way to the argument.
So how do we correct people’s misperceptions, without explicitly denying and reinforcing them?

Example from the MAP on how to avoid repeating negative arguments

Interestingly, there is also an opposite theory: by dispelling lies and negative assumptions, people are getting “inoculated” against them. So engaging people over the negative frames of the opposition will make people resistant to these frames. Much like a shot of vaccine makes people resistant to an illness.

An interesting theory that was experimented in Massachusetts by the Yes on 3 campaign on safeguarding protections for Transgender people. Nancypodcast brings a great interview on this experiment. A good moment to get confortable and sit back.

[dt-space height=”30″][ultimate_modal modal_title=”Read more about how Irish campaigners faced the challenge” btn_bg_color=”#ffffff” btn_bg_hover_color=”#efefef” btn_text=”Case Study: Irish Campaigners Face the Challenge” overlay_bg_opacity=”80″ img_size=”80″ btn_txt_color=”#dd9933″ button_text_font_style=”font-style:italic;,font-weight:bold;” button_text_font_size=”desktop:18px;” button_text_line_height=”desktop:18px;”]In Ireland during the YES campaign, campaigners refused to be drawn into debates with the opposition, learning early on that it simply fueled their fire. Campaigners instead told strong stories about families and family values without reinforcing notions of the patriarchal family of the natural order model. The stories centred on a story of Irish society that was fair, equal and generous, and a citizenry that was relational rather than reproductive. The campaign focused heavily on ideas of common humanity, love, and the reality of diversity.[/ultimate_modal]

In your context, what are the “Elephants” ? In other words, what are the main “arguments” that your opponents are using against you and that you should be careful to never engage on?