The backfire effect is a cognitive bias, meaning that you can use general debiasing techniques in order to counter it effectively. Such strategies include, for example, increasing people’s awareness of this bias, using simpler explanations, and changing the way you present information.

This means that when you’re talking to people to change their stance on something, you need to remember that how you present information is just as important as what information you present if you want to avoid a backfire effect. You need to display the new information in a non-confrontational manner, that allows people to internalize the additional facts, and reach the conclusion that you want them to reach themselves.

If you truly want to get your point across, then remember that attacking the other person for having the ‘wrong’ opinion, no matter how misguided it might be, is unlikely to work, since it will probably just put them in a defensive mindset, where they’re not willing to accept new evidence. This is especially important to keep in mind because if people perceive you as uncivil or hostile, they are more likely to doubt the validity of your argument, even if the argument itself is rational and well-founded.

Besides reducing the backfire effect other people experience, you can also use your understanding of this bias in order to reduce the degree to which you experience it yourself. This causes being critical of how you process new information, which will allow you to think in a more rational way and to make better decisions.

The basic way to reduce your own backfire effect is to be aware of its influence and to change how you react when you encounter information that contradicts your beliefs.

Specifically, when you encounter such information, you should not ignore it outright or immediately try to explain why it’s wrong. Instead, you should first try to look at it with fresh eyes, and assess it based on its own merit, without comparing it to your pre-existing theory on the topic.

 Beyond this, you can use the techniques that we saw above, as well as other debiasing techniques that can help you avoid this bias. These techniques revolve primarily around getting you to process new information in a conscious manner, instead of reacting to it intuitively, which helps ensure you will give new information the chance that it deserves.

The backfire effect occurs primarily because when people argue strongly enough against unwelcome information, they end up, in their mind, with more arguments that support their original stance.

If you’re trying to explain to someone the issues with their stance, you can mitigate the backfire effect by presenting new information in a way that encourages the other person to consider and internalize that information, instead of rejecting it outright.

There is variability in terms of when people are influenced by this effect, and there are situations where people don’t experience a backfire effect when they are shown information which contradicts their beliefs. However, since this variability is difficult to predict, it’s better to assume that the backfire effect will play a role in people’s thought processes and to act accordingly.




Originally Published on

I served as a teacher, a teacher on Call, a Department Head, a District Curriculum, Specialist, a Program Coordinator, and a Provincial Curriculum Coordinator over a forty year career. In addition, I was the Department Head for Curriculum and Instruction, as well as a professor both online and in person at the University of Phoenix (Canada) from 2000-2010.

I also worked with Special Needs students. I gave workshops on curriculum development and staff training before I fully retired

Tagged: ,