Guest / Limited Access /

When you think of some of the most passionate, persistent, and eloquent advocates for social change—William Wilberforce, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr.—you think of men who were confident in the rightness of their cause.

But a new study published in Psychological Science says that it's doubt, not confidence, that leads individuals to advance their beliefs and attempt to persuade others.

For their study, Northwestern University researchers David Gal and Derek Rucker asked students to write out their views on animal testing. Yet only half of the students were allowed to use their preferred hand. That's because earlier studies have shown that people have less confidence in what they are writing when using their weak hand. Then students were asked to write something persuasive with their preferred hand. The students who had been induced to lose confidence wrote significantly more words in an attempt to persuade others.

Other experiments were run dealing with vegetarianism and the ultimate proselytizing vehicle: Mac computers. In every case, doubt turned the students into stronger advocates, particularly if the belief was important to them.

The researchers said their work (which was based on earlier studies about enduring beliefs after failed religious prophecies) offers a warning to anyone on the receiving end of an advocacy attempt.

"Although it is natural to assume that a persistent and enthusiastic advocate of a belief is brimming with confidence, the advocacy might in fact signal that the individual is boiling over with doubt," they concluded.

Who doesn't want to think this is true, especially after a quick read of the latest screed from a New Atheist or, for that matter, enduring an overwritten post on ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedStrategic Evangelism: 3 Effective Outreach Opportunities
Strategic Evangelism: 3 Effective Outreach Opportunities
What are some of the best times to share the gospel?
TrendingMeet the Failed Pastor Who Ministers to Other Failed Pastors
Meet the Failed Pastor Who Ministers to Other Failed Pastors
J. R. Briggs sympathizes with church leaders who don't live up to expectations.
Editor's PickThe Hidden Blessing of Infertility
The Hidden Blessing of Infertility
Our inability to have kids turned into an ability to do so much else.
Comments
Christianity Today
In Praise of Confidence
hide thisMarch March

In the Magazine

March 2011

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.