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Here’s why dinner debates go nowhere

We’ve all tried to win a war of words, spewing facts every which way. Why won’t those wrong-headed people listen?

Turns out, you should stop talking and show them a chart instead.

A writer by trade, I was a bit rattled by a new paper published in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties by Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter.

Not only did their research find that charts work better than words, sometimes words actually compounded pre-existing biases among certain fact-impervious, tribally entrenched souls.

This could explain why some national debates—like climate change—persist despite boat loads of evidence.

Change minds with graphics instead of words

“We find that providing participants with graphical information significantly decreases false and unsupported factual beliefs,” Nyhan and Reifler explain.

Data presented in graphs and illustrations did more to fight misperceptions than the same information offered as a written explanation.

Speed the path to understanding

number of studies have shown, that people understand visually rich formats faster than text. And from that speedy comprehension comes trust.

As an example, researchers looked at how 1,000 study participants processed facts about the 2011 U.S.troop surge in Iraq. After the troop level spike, attacks on coalition forces dropped significantly.

But it turns out, if you talked to people who opposed the war in general and told them in words only about the attack drop off rate, they didn’t buy it. They continued to believe the surge had been a failure.

Seeing this chart, however, changed their tune.


The next graph depicts the belief shift among these participant groups.

image 1

Fascinating, yes?

So stop typing and start visualizing some data. They’ll see your point, when they can really see the facts.

We love this topic because we can help you make charts and graphs of all kinds from your data using popular analytics tools like Tableau or PowerBI. Here are some examples:

image 2

We can also build interactive, online maps, charts and other visualizations like this one:

image 3

What do you think? Have you noticed this trend in your own work? Drop us a line at to discuss how better data visualization could serve your business.

Author: CloudBase Services