What happens when a strong advocate for one side of a controversial issue in science publicly announces that he or she now believes the opposite?….Although past research suggests that such “conversion messages” may be an effective persuasion technique, the actual effect of such messages has been unknown.
Now, a new study from researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center shows that such a conversion message can influence public attitudes toward genetically modified (GM) foods.
Using video of a talk by the British environmentalist Mark Lynas about his transformation from an opponent of GM crops to an advocate, researchers found that Lynas’ conversion narrative had a greater impact on the attitudes of people who viewed it than a direct advocacy message.
The respondents each were shown one [clip of] Lynas explaining the benefits of GM crops; 2) Lynas discussing….changing his mind about GM crops; and 3) Lynas explaining why his beliefs changed, including the realization that the anti-GM movement….was a form of anti-science environmentalism.
The researchers found that both forms of the conversion message (2 and 3) were more influential than the simple advocacy message.
“The two-sided nature of the conversion message – presenting old beliefs and then refuting them – was more effective than a straightforward argument in favor of GM crops,” [said Benjamin A. Lyons, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center ].