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To Change One’s Mind

To Change One’s Mind

Dr. Austin Archer’s Distinguished Faculty Lecture 

By Matthew Peinado 

The phrase “change one’s mind” may be commonly used, but may not be as frequently analyzed. On November 7th, 2021, Dr. Austin Archer, professor of psychology and education, gave a distinguished faculty lecture on his academic research analyzing this very concept in relation to memory and prophecy. 

In order to understand what it means to change one’s mind, first, the concept of mind must be defined. Dr. Archer used the following definitions of mind from the American Psychological Association: 

“1. Broadly, all intellectual and psychological phenomena of an organism, encompassing motivational, affective, behavioral, perceptual, and cognitive systems; that is, the organized totality of an organism’s mental and psychic processes and the structural and functional cognitive components on which they depend. The term, however, is also used more narrowly to denote only cognitive activities and functions, such as perceiving, attending, thinking, problem solving, language, learning, and memory. The nature of the relationship between the mind and the body, including the brain and its mechanisms or activities, has been, and continues to be, the subject of much debate. See mind-body problemphilosophy of mind.  

2. the substantive content of such mental and psychic processes.  

3. consciousness or awareness, particularly as specific to an individual.”[1] 

Using this understanding of mind, Dr. Archer explained the two ways in which one could change their mind. First, through a conscious change of personal beliefs. Second, through memory construction. Dr. Archer further expanded upon the concept of memory construction using President George Bush’s comments about how he learned of 9/11 as an example.  

In three different public appearances, President Bush gave three subtly different stories recalling how he learned of 9/11. In two of those stories, he said he saw the first plane going into the North Tower. One involved President Bush saying he had watched the second plane on the tv as well, and in the other he said he learned of the second plane while presenting at an elementary school. In the third story, President Bush said he was told about the first plane by an advisor and the second plane by his chief of staff.  

President Bush’s inaccurate memory is no fault of his own. Dr. Archer shared numerous studies showing the imperfection of memory and how our memories often change to fit schemas, previously held beliefs about the world. When one doesn’t remember an event exactly as it happened, it is the same as changing one’s mind about an event. 

Archer quoted the following from Elizabeth Loftus, a cognitive psychologist considered an expert in the field of memory, “Many people believe that memory works like a recording device. Memory works a bit more like a Wikipedia page; you can go in there and change it, but so can other people.” [2] 

Archer also talked about prophecy and its relation to changing one’s mind. Our memory looks back into the past and generates our perception of that reality. The other part of our perception is created by our prophecy of what we believe will happen in the future. 

Dr. Archer used Donald Trump’s election as an example of what happens when prophecy fails. In 2015 a young preacher named Jeremiah Johnson proclaimed Donald Trump would be president of the United States. It didn’t take long for more preachers to join in the prophetic statement. 

After Trump’s presidential victory, more preachers and others joined the fray for the 2020 election. When Trump lost the 2020 election in November, the prophets and their followers had to make a decision. They had to either believe that their prophecy was wrong, or believe that Trump’s presidential loss was wrong. 

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“For many prophets and their followers, conceding President Trump’s loss was too costly,”[3] said Dr. Archer. They had staked their money, livelihoods, and reputations on this prophecy. The prophets and followers tried to change the reality through litigation, protest, and the fateful attack on the Capitol on January sixth.  

Completely changing one’s worldview can be a difficult experience. Dr. Archer then transitioned to his lecture with the structure of changing one’s mind. This process would take one through phases of pre-change, change, and post-change. 

In the pre-change phase, an event must occur to initiate the process of change. This event must be in direct contrast to previously held schemas and breach the walls of one’s confirmation bias to change one’s mind. 

This leads to the phase of change. In this phase, people will actively adjust their thoughts and actions to fit their new worldview.  

The post-change phase happens after all adjustment to one’s previous schemas have taken place. Here is when one mentally moves on from the past and looks towards the future.  

Dr. Archer finished his lecture with a call to action, specifically about climate change. We cannot continue to let the worst effects of climate change affect those who live in impoverished nations while we sit complacently. We must change our minds on a societal level about how we care for our planet. [4] 

References 

  1. Elizabeth Loftus: How Can Our Memories Be Manipulated? (2017, October 13). NPR. from https://www.npr.org/transcripts/557424726  
  1. mind – APA Dictionary of Psychology. (n.d.). APA Dictionary of Psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/mind  
  1. Dr. Archer’s Distinguished Faculty Lecture, 11/7/21. 
  1.  Ibid. 
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