The one sentence summary

When trying to change others’ beliefs and behaviour, many of our actions are ineffective because they are incompatible with how the mind really works.


  • This is a research-based inquiry into how we influence those around us, and how understanding the brain can help us change minds for the better.
  • We systematically fall back on sub-optimal habits when trying to change others’ beliefs and behaviour. Many of these actions are ineffective because they are incompatible with how the mind really operates.
  • Examples include trying to scare people into action, insisting the other person is wrong, and attempting to exert control.
  • The book covers 7 main areas:
  1. Priors. Does evidence change beliefs? No. Data doesn’t persuade people.
  2. Emotion. Stories, plots and characters stick in the mind and persuade more than anything rational.
  3. Incentives. Should you scare people into action? No. “Employees must wash their hands” doesn’t work. Immediate positive feedback does.
  4. Agency. You obtain power by letting go. “It’s your responsibility to water this plant” is stronger than “We will water the plants for you.”
  5. Curiosity. What do people really want to know? People are more likely to listen to pre-flight safety briefings that are funny and optimistic.
  6. State. What happens to minds under threat? Stress and intimidation change the way we process information. Usually that means playing it safe, but sometimes it leads to unexpected risk taking.
  7. Others. Be careful of too much social learning – the circumstances of others may not suit you.



  • You would expect that the more intelligent someone is, the more prepared they would be to change their mind in the light of new evidence. They don’t. Instead they use their intelligence to twist the argument the way they want it.
  • Presenting new evidence to those with entrenched views (eg. on gun laws, climate change etc.) doesn’t work. In fact, it has a boomerang effect, in which they ignore the evidence and become even more entrenched in their views. Google enables anyone to prove or disprove anything.
  • If you want to improve your decision making, guess the answer or outcome 3 times, leaving time in between guesses. A three-week gap increases accuracy by over 16%. This is because it is impossible in one instant to recall all your experience and knowledge on the subject.
  • Beware biases snowballing. Our instinct is to go with the majority. But this can be wrong. Always ask: who is the expert in this?


  • The topicality of all this could depend on how much you actually want to influence others.