By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
You've probably heard the expression, "Minds are like parachutes: They only function when they're open." That is undoubtedly true for some people. And if you're one of the curious regular readers of this blog, then that is probably true for you. But it isn't true for others. Their minds don't function best when open. Instead, a certain amount of purposeful closed-mindedness is necessary for them to feel certain, grounded, and safe. Looking out at an audience while you are trying to persuade them to set aside a current belief and adopt something new, it is tempting to think that there are just two kinds out there: Those who are open and those who are dug in. Or we might further reduce that to those who are smart and those who aren't. But it is more nuanced than that.
For example, a piece the other day from Pew Research Center, simply titled, "How People Approach Facts and Information," uses survey data to identify some important individual differences. "Some are interested and engaged with information," they write, while "others are wary and stressed." As a step in analyzing an audience, it is a useful question: How do they handle new information? Some will go after it, test its reliability, select what's best, and ultimately adapt a new belief. Others will try to avoid what's new, or will be automatically skeptical of anything they don't already take to be true. It is not just knowledge that separates these groups, it is mostly attitude. Referring to this as the dimension of "information engagement," Pew identifies a typology of five distinct groups. Using national survey data along with statistical cluster analysis, the research organization discovered that people split along the themes of trust versus skepticism and interest versus disengagement, and are grouped into not two but five groups, no one of which could be called "typical." In this post, I'll take a look at the five different groups and share some thoughts on ways attorneys can diagnose and adapt to the information engagement styles of their audiences.