Why debates are pointless

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

Why debates are pointless - A psychological point of view

Are debates of any use?
Can debates really lead to any positive outcomes?
Can you really convince someone to change their beliefs?
The answer according to psychology is no, at least in most cases.

First of all let me make it clear that i am not talking about a normal conversation where both people are willing to listen and even change their minds if they were proven wrong but i am rather talking about the emotionally charged debates that take place between people everyday.

People develop certain beliefs because those beliefs allow them to maintain their psychological stability. This is why a threat to any of those beliefs is considered a direct threat to the person's psychological stability.

In other words when a person gets into a debate he might no longer care about what's right and what's wrong as much as he cares about maintaining his psychological stability.

While debating a typical person will take a debate very personally because it represents his beliefs, values, personality, opinions and even self worth.

Let me give you more details to make this clear.

What do people do to protect their beliefs

Here are some of the common things humans do to protect their own beliefs:

  • 1) Selective perception: If a person wants to believe in something he will discard all the data that proves otherwise and will only focus on the little pieces of data that can prove him right. When a human uses selective perception you will hardly be able to argue with them for they will only see what they want to see and they will ignore everything else
  • 2) They develop double standards: In order for a person to maintain his beliefs he will have to develop double standards in order to find a way out when he gets stuck. In my article Why do people have double standards i said that developing double standards is essential for some people to maintain their psychological stability
  • 3) They see things from one angle: In order for a person to maintain a belief, that helps him become psychologically stable, he will have to look at things from a certain angle and refuse to look from any other angle. In other words a person could claim that a white sheep is black just because admitting otherwise will threaten his psychological stability. See How people twist the facts to support their beliefs
  • 4) They will never change their opinion: Even if the person was provided with enough evidence he will still resist the new beliefs and come up with more arguments just to maintain his psychological stability. See Why do people stick to their incorrect opinions

People won't change their minds

People don't defend their arguments because they care about those arguments but they defend them because losing would result in a serious psychological instability such as loss of self esteem, discovering that they wasted their lives for nothing, realizing that they are guilty...etc.

The reason people defend their arguments fiercely is that they are usually defending things that are much bigger than those simple arguments.

But do all people do that?
Off course not. I believe that there are sane and emotionally intelligent people out there who debate with the purpose of finding the truth. Debates will certainly work with those people. The only problem is that those people are a minority.

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