Beliefs are deeply ingrained within us. They shape our perspectives, decisions, and actions. But can we change our beliefs? This question has intrigued philosophers, psychologists, and scientists for centuries.
In this newsletter, we’ll explore some compelling evidence that supports the notion that belief change is indeed possible.
1. The Neuroplasticity of Belief:
Neuroscience research has revealed the brain’s remarkable ability to
rewire itself, known as neuroplasticity. This phenomenon suggests that
our beliefs are not fixed but can be modified through new experiences
and learning. Studies by Doidge (2007) and Draganski et al. (2006)
demonstrate how the brain’s structure and connectivity can change in
response to new information and experiences, providing a foundation for
Example: Learning to Play a Musical Instrument:
When someone starts learning an instrument, their brain undergoes
changes to accommodate the new skill. For instance, areas responsible
for finger movements, auditory processing, and coordination become more
active and interconnected. With practice and repetition, these neural
connections strengthen, leading to improved motor skills, musical
memory, and overall proficiency in playing the instrument.
This change in programming creates a transition from believing that they
are not a musician, to believing that they are.
2. The Role of Cognitive Dissonance:
Leon Festinger’s classic work on cognitive dissonance highlights the
discomfort we experience when our beliefs clash with contradictory
information or actions. Festinger (1957) argues that this discomfort
motivates us to resolve the inconsistency, often leading to belief
Example: Quitting Smoking
Cognitive dissonance often plays a significant role in the process of
quitting smoking. When individuals become aware of the harmful effects
of smoking and the discrepancy between their desire for good health and
their smoking behavior, cognitive dissonance arises. This discomfort
motivates them to resolve the inconsistency by either changing their
belief about smoking or changing their behavior. Many smokers experience
cognitive dissonance as they confront the conflict between their desire
to quit smoking and their addiction. This internal conflict can lead to
belief change and ultimately motivate individuals to quit.
3. The Influence of Social Factors:
Our beliefs are not formed in isolation but are influenced by our social
environment. Research by Asch (1951) and Sherif (1936) demonstrates the
power of social conformity and the impact it can have on belief change.
When exposed to differing viewpoints and perspectives, individuals may
reassess their beliefs and adopt new ones.
Examples: Asch Conformity Experiment & Peer Pressure
The classic Asch Conformity Experiment conducted by Solomon Asch in the
1950s provides a powerful example of how social conformity can lead to
belief change. In the experiment, participants were shown a line and
asked to match it with one of three comparison lines. However,
unbeknownst to the participant, the other individuals in the room were
confederates instructed to give incorrect answers. The majority of
participants conformed to the incorrect answers provided by the
confederates, even though they could clearly see that the answers were
wrong. This demonstrated how the pressure to conform to the group led
individuals to doubt their own perception and change their beliefs to
align with the group consensus.
Peer pressure is another example of how social conformity can lead to
belief change, particularly in the context of risky behaviors.
Adolescents, for instance, may engage in substance abuse, reckless
driving, or other dangerous activities due to the influence of their
peers. The desire to fit in and be accepted by the social group can lead
individuals to adopt beliefs and behaviors that they may not have
otherwise embraced. This highlights how social conformity can override
personal beliefs and values, leading to belief change and potentially
4. The Impact of Persuasion and Education:
Persuasion and education play crucial roles in belief change. Robert
Cialdini’s influential book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,”
explores the principles that can sway beliefs and behaviors.
Additionally, research by Petty and Cacioppo (1986) and Eagly and
Chaiken (1993) highlights the effectiveness of persuasive communication
and education in challenging and transforming beliefs.
Examples: Public Health Campaigns & Social Justice Movements
Public health campaigns provide a powerful example of how persuasion and
education can change a person’s beliefs. For instance, campaigns aimed
at promoting healthy behaviors like quitting smoking, practicing safe
sex, or adopting a healthier diet have been successful in changing
people’s beliefs and behaviors. By providing evidence-based information,
raising awareness about the risks and benefits, and using persuasive
messaging, these campaigns can effectively educate individuals and
persuade them to change their beliefs and adopt healthier habits.
Social justice movements have the power to change beliefs and attitudes
by raising awareness about systemic inequalities and advocating for
change. Movements like the civil rights movement, LGBTQ+ rights
movement, and feminist movement have successfully challenged societal
norms and beliefs, leading to significant shifts in public opinion.
Through education, storytelling, and persuasive messaging, these
movements have been able to change people’s beliefs about issues such as
racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and gender equality, fostering greater
acceptance and support for marginalized communities.
5. The Growth Mindset:
Psychologist Carol Dweck’s research on mindset emphasizes the power of
beliefs in shaping our success and personal growth. Dweck (2006)
introduces the concept of a growth mindset, where individuals believe
their abilities can be developed through effort and learning. Embracing
a growth mindset can foster belief change by encouraging individuals to
challenge their existing beliefs and embrace new possibilities.
Example: Michael Jordan
In his early years, Jordan faced numerous setbacks and failures. He was
cut from his high school basketball team, which could have led him to
believe that he simply wasn’t good enough to succeed in the sport.
However, Jordan embraced a growth mindset and saw these setbacks as
opportunities for growth and improvement. He believed that with hard
work, dedication, and a willingness to learn, he could develop his
skills and become a better player. Jordan used these failures as
motivation to work even harder, constantly pushing himself to improve
Through relentless practice, perseverance, and a growth mindset, Jordan
transformed his beliefs about his own abilities. He went on to have a
highly successful basketball career, winning six NBA championships and
earning numerous accolades. Jordan’s story exemplifies how embracing a
growth mindset can lead to a change in beliefs, from doubting one’s
abilities to believing in the power of effort, practice, and continuous
While changing our beliefs may not be an easy or instantaneous process, the evidence suggests that it is indeed possible. Neuroplasticity, cognitive dissonance, social influence, persuasion, and adopting a growth mindset all contribute to our capacity for belief evolution. By remaining open-minded, seeking diverse perspectives, and engaging in continuous learning, we can challenge our existing beliefs and embrace new ones that align with our evolving understanding of the world.
Remember, belief change is a personal journey that requires introspection, critical thinking, and exposure to new ideas. I encourage you to embrace the possibility and power of belief evolution for both yourselves and those you lead.
Need help getting started? Head to www.elitehighperformance.com to learn
about how we can support you on your self-growth journey.
Thanks, and happy leading folks!
Coach MJ Jennings | High-Performance & Leadership Coach