Winning Arguments: Interaction Dynamics and Persuasion Strategies in Good-faith Online Discussions

Chenhao Tan, Vlad Niculae, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Lillian Lee.
In Proceedings of the 25th International World Wide Web Conference (WWW'2016).

Changing someone's opinion is arguably one of the most important challenges of social interaction. The underlying process proves difficult to study: it is hard to know how someone's opinions are formed and whether and how someone's views shift. Fortunately, ChangeMyView, an active community on Reddit, provides a platform where users present their own opinions and reasoning, invite others to contest them, and acknowledge when the ensuing discussions change their original views. In this work, we study these interactions to understand the mechanisms behind persuasion.

We find that persuasive arguments are characterized by interesting patterns of interaction dynamics, such as participant entry-order and degree of back-and-forth exchange. Furthermore, by comparing similar counterarguments to the same opinion, we show that language factors play an essential role. In particular, the interplay between the language of the opinion holder and that of the counterargument provides highly predictive cues of persuasiveness. Finally, since even in this favorable setting people may not be persuaded, we investigate the problem of determining whether someone's opinion is susceptible to being changed at all. For this more difficult task, we show that stylistic choices in how the opinion is expressed carry predictive power.

[PDF] [Data(README)] [Slides]

Please see our blog for a brief overview and some code examples of using our dataset!

Here is an updated version of our changemyview dataset that contains the latest posts and replies (Dataset version: 11/11/2016, refer to the above README for data format).

Media coverage:
NPR: Change My View On Reddit Helps People Challenge Their Own Opinions
You are not so smart: Podcast: Change my view
Slate: You Can’t Win: How algorithms are changing the ways we argue.
The Washington Post: How to change someone’s mind, according to science
The Washington Post: How to win a Facebook argument, according to science
New York Magazine: A Subreddit Sparked a Scientific Inquiry Into How to Change Someone’s Mind
Daily Mail: How to win ANY argument using science: Experts reveal which words to use and how one simple trick can help you get your own way

     author = {Chenhao Tan and Vlad Niculae and Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil and Lillian Lee},
     title = {Winning Arguments: Interaction Dynamics and Persuasion Strategies in Good-faith Online Discussions},
     year = {2016},
     booktitle = {Proceedings of WWW}

This work was supported in part by NSF grant IIS-0910664, a Google Research Grant, a Google Faculty Research Award and a Facebook Fellowship. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or other sponsors.