Home » How to Win a Political Debate in 5 Easy Steps: Joshua Thompson (Transcript)

How to Win a Political Debate in 5 Easy Steps: Joshua Thompson (Transcript)

Full text of Joshua Thompson’s talk: How to Win a Political Debate in 5 Easy Steps at TEDxWWU conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Joshua Thompson – WWU Political Psychology Lab

It’s April 2016, which means we are currently in the middle of one of the greatest spectacles on the face of the earth, and that would be… my clicker not working. That’s a pretty big spectacle. There we go. Oh! Let’s try this again.

The United States presidential election.

But now by this time, we’ve been inundated with political ads and candidates screaming at each other and Facebook posts with everybody just going nuts, and at this point if you’re a normal person, that’s how you feel.

But if you’re me, you’re like, “Please sir, could I have some more.” I absolutely love politics. I love watching politics. I love to talk about politics. And I really think it’s a travesty in this country that politics have become such a taboo topic.

It’s something we don’t want to talk about. We don’t want to talk about it at family gatherings; we don’t want to talk about it at bars when you’re enjoying an adult beverage; we just kind of steer away from it and that’s really sad. It’s something that we should engage in, we should talk about, and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about.

One thing that’s lost in our politics is civility. We seem to come from a place of ideology, and when we come from this place of ideology, there’s something that’s lost, and that’s fast. And it’s important to remember that facts do matter. When we’re talking about politics, it’s important to know your facts.

But what I’m going to propose to you today is that there’s actually something a little more important, and that’s psychology. Psychology matters.

We can use principles of psychology to come up with a new approach of discussing politics, really. It kind of takes ideology out of it and really makes us focus on one another and listen to what other folks are saying, right?

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And so, the title of my talk is How to Win a Political Debate in Five Easy Steps. And just in my title alone, we see one of the major problems within politics, and that’s these first three words ‘how to win.’ That’s a problem because we seem to view politics as a sum game; it’s a game of wins and losses. How can we one-up one another? How can we just fight it out to the death almost? It’s almost like Thunder dome, you know, two men enter, one man leaves. It’s really kind of nuts.

So, I’m going to change that; not just how to debate in five easy steps. You can really use this for just about any argument, I feel.

And so I came about this one day after scrolling through Facebook and I saw this post from… we will call him Facebook guy and it was about the hashtag ‘Love Wins’.

Now I’m sure most people here know what that hashtag means, but if you don’t, it was created through social media during the whole debate over same-sex marriage, marriage equality and it was in support of that.

So I’m looking through Facebook one day and Facebook guy has this big long post about hashtag Love Wins, about how it’s hateful, it’s hypocritical, it’s just awful, it’s persecuting people for their sincerely held beliefs and how basically allowing members of the LGBT community to be legally married, it’s just going to destroy the world, right.

So I kind of stepped back for a minute and thought about it and I was like, you know, I am not going to troll this dude today.

But then after considering it and after reading his post again and just taking into account, who I am? I was like yeah that’s dumb of course, I’m totally going to troll him, right and it was a really simple thing to do. I just did it with two little hashtags.

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And though I couldn’t actually see him through the inner web, I can tell by his response that this was his reaction, he really didn’t like it that much, you know.

And so that brings me to the first step and that is Push The Buttons, right, and I know that kind of sounds a little counterintuitive, but kind of hear me out on that.

Cognitive psychology tells us that we tend to remember things more when they have an emotional content, right. If we’re in a state of arousal, we’re going to pay attention to what’s going on around us whether we realize it or not, we just are. Arousal leads to focus.

So, you can see this with word list, number sequences, written narratives, autobiographical memories just about anything if it comes with an emotional context. We’re going to pay attention to it whether we realize it or not.

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