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How can I get better at arguments? © Getty Images

How can I get better at arguments?

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For when ‘I know you are, but what am I?’ doesn’t quite cut it

Science can definitely help here, thanks to ‘erisology’: the study of disagreements. For instance, ever had your mind go blank when asked to explain your side of an argument? A study in journal Psychological Science indicated that people who claim to know what they’re talking about often aren’t able to articulate their argument well, so begin by asking your opponent in detail what exactly they believe. The same study found that the act of explaining also dilutes extreme views, so this could really help your case.


Didn’t work? Exercise moral foundations theory. Proposed by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, it suggests our moral ‘taste buds’ exist in six major areas: care, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity and liberty.

A 2017 study outlined that left-leaning folk prioritise care, while right-wingers favour loyalty, authority and sanctity. Liberty and fairness are important across the board, so try reframing your argument according to your opponent’s beliefs.

What about eye contact? If you’re talking, avoid it. That’s the argument put forward by one University of British Columbia study that observed participants with opposing views state their cases on controversial issues. Using eye-tracking technology, the researchers found the more time participants spent looking at a speaker’s eyes, the less persuaded they were by their argument. In short: follow this rule, and only victory should be in your sights.

Asked by: Sara Flynn, Portsmouth

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