Empathy is key to persuasion. . . and success

Writing is hard.

There just are so many things to consider, and then after your work is finished it may, or, may not strike a chord.  With a publisher or producer.  And then with the public.

This raises an important consideration:  did you write to satisfy yourself, or, did you write to satisfy your reader or viewer?

The following research reports are about having empathy for the person you're writing for - in the case of these studies, writing to convince a political opponent of the wisdom of your point of view. The conclusion of the researchers is that arguments based on a political opponent's moral principles, rather than one's own, have a much better chance of success.

This observation applies to writing fiction and non-fiction.  The question is: who are your target readers?  Think you're writing for everyone?  Sorry, no such animal.

Certain types of people read or watch certain types of fiction.  Or non-fiction.


Personally, I read some fiction, not a lot, but I do read non-fiction.  Right now I'm enjoying two historical works, one about the peace movement in England during WWI and the other about the city of Washington D.C. during the American civil war.  The last book I finished was a wonderful biography of Einstein.  The last fiction I read was a D.L. Sayers' murder mystery - which I have read several times before.

I'm of a type in what I read.   There are other types of readers and viewers.

Who reads romantic fiction?

Who watches scifi almost exclusively?

Who reads historical fiction?

Who watches conspiracy shows on TV?

The list goes on, and the description of people who are fans of each genre' are different, all different.  So here's one more thing you must consider to find success as a writer.

Who are you writing for?

Can you describe your typical reader or the reader you target?

If not, you're hurting your own chances of success.

Here's three reports that address persuasion, with links to the full studies in the attributions.
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Empathy is key to political persuasion 

In today's American politics, it might seem impossible to craft effective political messages that reach across the aisle on hot-button issues like same-sex marriage, national health insurance and military spending. But, based on new research by Stanford sociologist Robb Willer, there's a way to craft messages that could lead to politicians finding common ground.

"We found the most effective arguments are ones in which you find a new way to connect a political position to your target audience's moral values," Willer said.

While most people's natural inclination is to make political arguments grounded in their own moral values, Willer said, these arguments are less persuasive than "reframed" moral arguments.

To be persuasive, reframe political arguments to appeal to the moral values of those holding the opposing political positions, said Matthew Feinberg, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto, who co-authored the study with Willer. Their work was published recently online in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Such reframed moral appeals are persuasive because they increase the apparent agreement between a political position and the target audience's moral values, according to the research, Feinberg said.

In fact, Willer pointed out, the research shows a "potential effective path for building popular support in our highly polarized political world." Creating bipartisan success on legislative issues -- whether in Congress or in state legislatures -- requires such a sophisticated approach to building coalitions among groups not always in agreement with each other, he added.

Different moral values
Feinberg and Willer drew upon past research showing that American liberals and conservatives tend to endorse different moral values to different extents. For example, liberals tend to be more concerned with care and equality where conservatives are more concerned with values like group loyalty, respect for authority and purity.

They then conducted four studies testing the idea that moral arguments reframed to fit a target audience's moral values could be persuasive on even deeply entrenched political issues. In one study, conservative participants recruited via the Internet were presented with passages that supported legalizing same-sex marriage.

Conservative participants were ultimately persuaded by a patriotism-based argument that "same-sex couples are proud and patriotic Americans … [who] contribute to the American economy and society."

On the other hand, they were significantly less persuaded by a passage that argued for legalized same-sex marriage in terms of fairness and equality.

Feinberg and Willer found similar results for studies targeting conservatives with a pro-national health insurance message and liberals with arguments for high levels of military spending and making English the official language of the United States. In all cases, messages were significantly more persuasive when they fit the values endorsed more by the target audience.

"Morality can be a source of political division, a barrier to building bi-partisan support for policies," Willer said. "But it can also be a bridge if you can connect your position to your audience's deeply held moral convictions."

Values and framing messages
"Moral reframing is not intuitive to people," Willer said. "When asked to make moral political arguments, people tend to make the ones they believe in and not that of an opposing audience -- but the research finds this type of argument unpersuasive."

To test this, the researchers conducted two additional studies examining the moral arguments people typically make. They asked a panel of self-reported liberals to make arguments that would convince a conservative to support same-sex marriage, and a panel of conservatives to convince liberals to support English being the official language of the United States.

They found that, in both studies, most participants crafted messages with significant moral content, and most of that moral content reflected their own moral values, precisely the sort of arguments their other studies showed were ineffective.

"Our natural tendency is to make political arguments in terms of our own morality," Feinberg said. "But the most effective arguments are based on the values of whomever you are trying to persuade."

In all, Willer and Feinberg conducted six online studies involving 1,322 participants.

Story Source:  Materials provided by Stanford University, original written by Clifton B. Parker. M. Feinberg, R. Willer. From Gulf to Bridge: When Do Moral Arguments Facilitate Political Influence? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2015
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The role of genes in political behavior

Politics and genetics have traditionally been considered non-overlapping fields, but over the past decade it has become clear that genes can influence political behavior, according to a review published online August 27th in Trends in Genetics. This paradigm shift has led to novel insights into why people vary in their political preferences and could have important implications for public policy.

"We're seeing an awakening in the social sciences, and the wall that divided politics and genetics is really starting to fall apart," says review author Peter Hatemi of the University of Sydney. "This is a big advance, because the two fields could inform each other to answer some very complex questions about individual differences in political views."

In the past, social scientists had assumed that political preferences were shaped by social learning and environmental factors, but recent studies suggest that genes also strongly influence political traits. Twin studies show that genes have some influence on why people differ on political issues such as the death penalty, unemployment and abortion. Because this field of research is relatively new, only a handful of genes have been implicated in political ideology and partisanship, voter turnout, and political violence.

Future research, including gene-expression and sequencing studies, may lead to deeper insights into genetic influences on political views and have a greater impact on public policy. "Making the public aware of how their mind works and affects their political behavior is critically important," Hatemi says. "This has real implications for the reduction of discrimination, foreign policy, public health, attitude change and many other political issues."
Story Source:  Materials provided by Cell Press.  Peter K Hatemi and Rose McDermott. The Genetics of Politics: Discovery, Challenges and Progress. Trends in Genetics, August 27, 2012

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