Leading Brexiter voice Peter Oborne has done a U-turn, showing that even locked-in beliefs have a tipping point
“It’s nearly three years since I, along with 17. 4 million other Britons, voted for Brexit. Today I have to admit that the Brexit project has gone sour.” So began the Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne’s widely shared piece on why he changed his mind about Brexit. The article stood out because it was a rare example of someone changing their mind and admitting to it in public.
All too often we get locked into our beliefs. We seem incapable of changing our mind, no matter how compelling the evidence is that we are wrong. An extreme example of this was uncovered in 1956, by the American social psychologist Leon Festinger and his colleagues. They studied a cult that believed planet Earth would be destroyed by a great flood on 21 December 1954. Its followers also believed a select group of true believers would be saved when an alien spaceship arrived to collect them. At midnight on the allocated date, the members of the cult gathered and prepared to be saved by aliens. When the end of the world didn’t come, and the aliens didn’t arrive, they were stunned. Instead of dropping their precious beliefs they revised them. Their leader told them that the god of Earth had decided to give Earth a second chance. These cult members show us the lengths people will go to preserve their beliefs when faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.