How to Deal with Family Who Just Can’t Handle the Truth

Science-based ways to move people toward reality

Article ID: 687171

Released: 20-Dec-2017 2:05 PM EST

Source Newsroom: Ohio State University

Newswise — For many people, the holidays mean spending time with family and friends who have fully embraced “fake news” – and are happy to share it with you.

 A researcher at The Ohio State University has some science-based methods for dealing with people who reject the truth.

 “Our typical response is to respond by presenting the facts and arguing about the quality of the evidence. However, studies suggest that doing so is generally not effective in changing people’s minds on charged issues,” said Gleb Tsipursky, an assistant professor of history at Ohio State specializing in the history of behavioral science.

 Research on the confirmation bias shows that we tend to look for and interpret information in ways that conforms to our beliefs.  So rather than presenting the facts and arguing about their validity, people need to use research-based strategies on how to get people who deny the facts to update their beliefs toward reality, Tsipursky said.

 In a recent book (The Truth-Seeker’s Handbook: A Science-Based Guide), Tsipursky outlines one such strategy, which he calls by the acronym EGRIP (Emotions, Goals, Rapport, Information, Positive Reinforcement):

 EMOTIONS. If someone denies clear facts you can safely assume that it’s their emotions that are leading them away from reality, he said. While gut reactions can be helpful, they can also lead us astray in systematic and predictable ways. We need to deploy the skill of empathy, meaning understanding other people’s emotions, to determine what emotional blocks might cause them to stick their heads into the sand of reality.

 GOALS. Next, establish shared goals for both of you. Shared goals helps get you on the same side, and collaborating together to solve the problem. It's crucial for effective learning, Tsipursky explained.

 RAPPORT. Third, build rapport. Using the empathetic listening you did previously, a vital skill in promoting trusting relationships, echo their emotions and show you understand how they feel. Practice mirroring, meaning rephrasing in your own words the points made by the other person, which helps build trust.

 INFORMATION. Fourth, move on to sharing information. Here is where you can give the facts that you held back in the beginning. Do so in an emotionally-sensitive manner, he said. The key here is to show your conversation partner, without arousing a defensive or aggressive response, how their current truth denialism will lead to them undermining in the long term the shared goals we established earlier, a research-driven approach to addressing thinking errors.

 POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT. Fifth, as that person shows a willingness to change their mind, offer positive reinforcement. Praise their ability to update their beliefs. Doing so is very valuable as a research-based tactic of encouraging people to change their identity and sense of self-worth to align with truthfulness through associating positive emotions with doing so, according to Tsipursky.

 “Using the EGRIP strategy is a good way to overcome people’s confirmation bias and help point them toward beliefs that are closer to reality,” he said.


Contact: Gleb Tsipursky,






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