Can a critic who becomes a believer sway others? The case of genetically modified foods

What happens when a strong advocate for one side of a controversial issue in science publicly announces that he or she now believes the opposite? Can the message affect the views of those who witness it—and if so, how? Although past research suggests that such “conversion messages” may be an effective persuasion technique, the actual effect of such messages has been unknown.

GMO protester holding a sign that reads "poison is will kill us sooner or later" and the letters GMOs crossed out

A study from researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center shows that such a conversion message can influence public attitudes toward genetically modified (GM) foods.

Using video of a talk by the British environmentalist Mark Lynas about his transformation from an opponent of GM crops to an advocate, researchers found that Lynas’ conversion narrative had a greater impact on the attitudes of people who viewed it than a direct advocacy message.

“People exposed to the conversion message rather than a simple pro-GM message had a more favorable attitude toward GM foods,” says Benjamin A. Lyons, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC). “The two-sided nature of the conversion message—presenting old beliefs and then refuting them—was more effective than a straightforward argument in favor of GM crops.”

Read more at the Annenberg Public Policy Center.