Are Social Media Arguments Effective? Only About 1 in 5 People Change Their Opinion After A Facebook Fight

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If you have a social media account, you've likely been tempted to let someone know their opinion, well, sucks. I fall into this trap often enough that my therapist told me I should probably stop arguing with people on social media because of the anxiety it brings. A Pew study examining political disagreements found nearly 60 percent of people find social media arguments stressful, although though 1 in 5 people have changed their minds on an issue thanks to a social media conversation. But a 20 percent success rate isn't too encouraging, and a new study gives us another good reason to stop having social media arguments.

The research, published in journal Association for Psychological Science, found that hearing an opinion aloud is the most effective way to communicate your thoughts. Even if the person listening to you disagrees with your position, speaking out loud makes someone "seem more intellectual and emotionally warm than those whose opinions are written," according the study. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Chicago recorded people sharing their thoughts on abortion, the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and rap versus country music. Then, they distributed the messages to three groups: One group watched a video of the opinions, another listened to an audio recording, and the last group read a transcript. Then, participants rated how cultured, rational and intelligent the person expressing their opinion seemed.

Study participants who watched videos or listened to audio clips rated those sharing their opinions as more sophisticated and warm, even if they disagreed with the opinion being shared. If you're looking for civil discourse, it may only be a phone call or coffee date away.  

"Our findings show that even when the content is the same, the medium through which it is expressed can affect evaluations of the communicator," said lead researcher Juliana Schroeder, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in a press release. "It is possible that variance in communicators' natural cues in their voices, such as tone, can convey their thoughtfulness."

The study's authors also recorded videos of people explaining why they supported a presidential candidate during the 2016 presidential election. They found the same result: Messages with audio and video are more persuasive than written ones. Interestingly, if you agree with someone, the medium of communication is less likely to matter when it comes to how you perceive them.

The researchers also found that how people speak can make you humanize them, as well. For example, if someone takes several thoughtful pauses or changes their intonation while talking, you're able to relate better than you would to a transcript that can't convey tone.

If you are hoping to change someone's mind, a face-to-face meeting or phone conversation is likely the most effective way to do so. When you hear someone's voice, you realize they're a fellow human capable of thinking and feeling, which makes you more likely to hear them out.

“If mutual appreciation and understanding of the mind of another person is the goal of social interaction, then it may be best for the person’s voice to be heard,” the researchers say in the paper.

Will this stop most of us from responding to hot takes on Twitter? Probably not. Obviously, not every online discussion is geared toward changing someone's mind. It's possible to express your viewpoint just because you want to share your thoughts. But if you have someone in your life who you genuinely want to dialogue with, step away from your computer when it's time to have the conversation. You may leave the discussion feeling accomplished instead of frustrated.