Running head: PARADOXICAL THINKING
Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol, 63), in press
Paradoxical Thinking as a Paradigm of Attitude Change in the Context of Intractable
Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University
The Hebrew University
Daniel Bar-Tal and Boaz Hameiri contributed equally to this work and are listed in alphabetical
order. The authors would like to express deep gratitude for the very helpful comments provided
by Radmila Prislin, Arie Kruglanski, and Icek Ajzen on an earlier draft of this chapter.
The chapter introduces a new approach to attitude change, termed paradoxical thinking. It
suggests that messages that are consistent with an individual's view, but formulated in an
amplified, exaggerated, or even absurd manner, lead to an extended process of deliberative
thinking and arouse lower levels of resistance compared to conventional persuasive approaches
that use attitude-inconsistent messages. We argue that attitude-inconsistent messages are often
automatically rejected among highly involved individuals with extreme views. The paradoxical
thinking approach is intended to lead individuals to perceive their held societal beliefs or the
current situation as farfetched and implausible, and ultimately, to lead to unfreezing and
reevaluation of held attitudes. Eventually, unfreezing may lead to openness to alternative, more
moderate viewpoints that may then be adopted. We introduce four variables that are part of the
process (i.e., threat to identity, surprise, disagreement with the message, and unfreezing) and
present empirical evidence supporting this conception with studies conducted mostly vis-à-vis
conflict-supporting attitudes in the context of an intractable conflict.
Keywords: attitude change, psychological intervention, intractable conflict, paradoxical
The challenge of changing people's beliefs and attitudes has intrigued social psychology
from the initial stages of its emergence over 100 years ago (Allport, 1935; McDougall, 1908).
Indeed, for over a century, different theoretical and conceptual frameworks have been proposed
and thousands of empirical studies have been carried out, aiming to address this goal. For
practical reasons, many of these studies were conducted within the domain of consumer
behavior, marketing and business; but perhaps more importantly, some were performed to
improve the quality of life for individuals and collectives and build peace, equality, security,
justice and prosperity around the world.
Violent conflicts, poverty, waves of international migration, and global warming are
only some salient examples of major social problems that plague the world. Solutions to these
problems not only require tangible resources, but importantly, often demand changes in beliefs
and attitudes of society members. For example, the first condition of any substantial action to
slow global warming is to persuade people that it is actually taking place, that it is harmful,
and that it is caused by human activity. While in 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change's (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report concluded that “human influence has been the
dominant cause” of global warming, various organizations, groups and individuals dispute this
conclusion and do not attribute global warming to human actions (see Bliuc et al., 2015;
McCright, & Dunlap, 2000). In this case as well as in others, leaders who serve as epistemic
authorities to their supporters and have the power to initiate policies and carry actions are of
special importance. Nevertheless, in many cases they have detrimental influences on the well-
being of their societies and even on the world because of their held attitudes, as in the case of
the President of the United States Donald Trump who denies that humans being contribute
greatly to the global warming.
A similar, but perhaps even greater challenge exists in cases of intractable conflicts,
which are often devastating for the involved societies. Intractable conflicts, which are
positioned at one extreme of the tractable-intractable spectrum, resist peaceful resolution and
have the following characteristics: They are fought over goals viewed as existential, are violent,
perceived as being of zero-sum nature and unsolvable, occupy a central position in the lives of
the involved societies, require immense investments of material and psychological resources,
and last for at least 25 years (Bar-Tal, 2007, 2013; Kriesberg, 1993). Thus, a peaceful solution
to intractable conflicts first of all requires a dramatic change of conflict supporting societal
and attitudes by participating parties, and especially by leaders (Bar-Tal, 2013;
Kelman, 2007). Those are human beings who initiate bloody conflicts on the basis of their
formed beliefs and attitudes and thus they need to end them by changing their beliefs and
attitudes to bring peace and prosperity to their society. This challenge is critical among society
members who hold their positions with great confidence and involvement, mainly due to
socialization processes they have experienced throughout the years of living in the conflict
Through the years, various proposed interventions, based on different theories of
attitude change, have proved only partially successful in opening the minds of society members
(e.g., Hameiri, Bar-Tal, & Halperin, 2014). Most of these interventions have attempted to
provide knowledge or information countering people's predisposed beliefs about the particular
issue. One of the main reasons for their partial failure is attributed to individuals' strong
adherence to their societal beliefs and attitudes, leading to an automatic disregard of alternative
knowledge or an activation of a variety of defense mechanisms that allow a rejection of
information contradicting their views (see Kruglanski, 2004; Kunda, 1990).
Societal beliefs are defined as shared cognitions by the society members that address themes and issues that the
society members are particularly occupied with, and which contribute to their sense of uniqueness (Bar-Tal, 2000).
In view of the shortcomings characterizing many of the existing attitude change
interventions, we introduce a new approach to attitude change termed paradoxical thinking
(Hameiri, Nabet, Bar-Tal, & Halperin, 2018; Hameiri, Porat, Bar-Tal, & Halperin, 2016;
Hameiri, Porat, Bar-Tal, Bieler, & Halperin, 2014; see also Swann, Pelham, & Chidester,
1988). It is based on the classic debating technique reductio ad absurdum (Rescher, 2005). It
suggests that when individuals with well anchored extreme views are exposed to consistent
messages that are formulated in an amplified, exaggerated, or even absurd manner, their level
of disagreement, resistance and/or psychological defenses are not fully triggered and they
embark on a deliberative thinking process. This is in comparison to when they are exposed to
messages that contradict their views. Furthermore, such paradoxical messages, we suggest,
raise threats to the identity of the message recipient, instigating a re-evaluation process of the
held beliefs and attitudes that in turn may stimulate their unfreezing. Eventually, unfreezing
may lead to openness to alternative viewpoints that may be adopted. Specifically, the
paradoxical thinking message is intended to lead individuals to perceive their currently held
societal beliefs or the current situation as implausible and farfetched and then eventually move
them towards more moderate positions (Hameiri et al., 2016, 2018; Hameiri, Porat et al., 2014;
Swann et al., 1988). To make this definition more vivid, an example of a paradoxical thinking
message for individuals who dispute the notion that global warming is caused by human beings
might be that "as owners of this earth we have the right to pollute it. No one can put restrictions
on human behaviors even if it leads to the destruction of the globe."
The current chapter presents the paradoxical thinking paradigm of attitude change with
its assumptions and processes, as well as with supporting empirical evidence, mostly in the
context of intractable conflict. As we elaborate below, this context, in which most of our studies
have been carried out thus far, has long term negative effects on the participating societies,
leading to great involvement of society members and deep freezing of conflict-supporting
beliefs (Bar-Tal, 2013). Therefore, it can be considered as one of the most challenging missions
for attitude change. Thus, we will begin this chapter with describing the context of intractable
conflicts, with their evolved, often frozen socio-psychological repertoires (i.e., beliefs,
attitudes, and emotions) supporting conflict continuation. Then we will briefly present extant
approaches to attitude change used primarily in the context of intractable conflicts that have
focused on the contents of the messages. It is beyond the scope of the present chapter to review
in details the constantly growing literature on attitude change and persuasion because it has
often been carried out in the past (Ajzen, 2001; Albarracín & Shavitt, 2018; Bohner & Dickel,
2011; Eagly & Chaiken, 1993; Forgas, Cooper, & Crano, 2010; Prislin & Wood, 2005). Finally,
we will reach the heart of this chapter and elaborate on the paradoxical thinking conceptual
framework, followed by descriptions of studies that demonstrate its effectiveness, and several
aspects of its underlying psychological mechanism.
It is important to note that, in spite of the fact that we mostly describe studies carried
out in the context of intractable conflict, we argue wholeheartedly that the paradoxical thinking
approach can be used with regard to other issues and in other contexts, as demonstrated in
preliminary research that we review. Moreover, we contend that the results obtained in our
studies have only strengthened this argument, because in the context of intractable conflict
society members often prefer to die for their frozen extreme beliefs and attitudes rather than
change them and embark on the road of peace. Thus, the attitudes held in the context of
intractable conflict should be regarded as an example of a very extreme, challenging, case for
changing these attitudes. If the intervention is successful in this case, then it should work also
in other easier cases. Therefore, we will begin by describing this harsh and violent context in
which the repertoire of conflict-supporting beliefs and attitudes develops.
2. The Context of Intractable Conflict
The very harsh conditions in the context of intractable conflicts have received much
scholarly attention through the years. This is because of the persistent difficulty in ending them
peacefully, and their severe and costly implications for the societies involved, as well as for
the international community (see Azar, 1990; Bar-Tal, 2013; Coleman, 2003; Kriesberg, 1998;
Vallacher, Coleman, Nowak, & Bui-Wrzosinska, 2010). The ongoing conflicts in Kashmir,
Turkey, and the Middle East, for example, constitute prototypical cases of intractable conflicts.
They center on disagreements regarding contradictory goals and interests in different domains,
such as territories, natural resources, economic wealth, self-determination, and/or basic values.
These disagreements must be addressed in conflict resolution. Though these disagreements
could potentially be resolved through negotiation, mediation, or arbitration, intractable
conflicts, which are fought over goals that are perceived as being existential, are especially
resistant to peaceful conflict resolution. They often last for decades, even centuries, with high
levels of violence that cause immense suffering to the societies involved. Even if one side
militarily succeeds overcome the rival, the conflict often does not end because rivals stand up
in arms time after time, even after defeats, until achieve their goals, as viewed by at least the
majority of the society members. Examples of such cases we can see in the history of Poland,
India, Hungary , Slovenia, Basque country, or Ireland.
One of the major reasons for the perpetuation of intractable conflicts is the evolvement
of a socio-psychological conflict-related repertoire that maintains them and feeds their
continuation. This repertoire includes conflict-supporting societal beliefs and attitudes that are
organized into coherent collective narratives of collective conflict memory and ethos (Bar-Tal,
2007a, 2013; Oren, 2019). These narratives are functional for meeting the challenges of
intractable conflicts, because they satisfy basic needs of the individuals and the collective, such
as the need for meaningful understanding of the conflict situation, feeling secure, maintaining
a positive self-collective view, feeling just, and so on (see Burton, 1990; Lavi & Bar-Tal, 2015;
Staub, 2011). It is thus not surprising that in all societies involved in intractable conflicts, a
significant proportion of society members retain this repertoire, with its system of societal
beliefs, narratives of collective memories, and ethos of conflict, that become hegemonic pillars
of the culture of conflict (Bar-Tal, 2013). Many society members hold these beliefs with high
confidence, as a central part of their identity (for an analysis of the Israeli society as an example,
see Bar-Tal, 2007b; Bar-Tal, Halperin, & Oren, 2010; Oren, 2019; Bar-Tal & Raviv, in press).
As long as there is no light at the end of the tunnel, the repertoire plays a functional role
in the life of the society involved in the intractable conflict, fulfilling many of its individual
and collective needs (Bar-Tal, 2013). But when a light appears, and possibilities of resolving
the conflict peacefully emerge, the same conflict-supporting repertoire becomes a powerful
barrier that inhibits progress towards a peaceful settlement (Bar-Tal & Halperin, 2011). This
barrier leads to selective information processing that obstructs the penetration of new counter
information, which is one of the necessary conditions for changing beliefs and attitudes
favoring the development of a peace process. In many cases, individuals are not even interested
in exposure to alternative information that may contradict their held societal beliefs and
attitudes (Bar-Tal, 2013; Halperin & Bar-Tal, 2011; Hameiri, Bar-Tal & Halperin, 2017). The
unwillingness to absorb or even listen to alternative information stems from the freezing of
societal beliefs, which fuels the continuation of the conflict and prevents openness to new
views and information that contradict the held knowledge (Kruglanski, 2004; Kruglanski &
Webster, 1996; Kunda, 1990).
Beliefs and attitudes are considered to be frozen when they are subjected to top-down
processing. In other words, information that confirms the held beliefs and attitudes is accepted
as valid. Alternative information that is inconsistent with the held beliefs and attitudes,
however, is likely to be ignored, rejected, and/or misinterpreted (Kruglanski, 2004; Kunda,
1990). Freezing leads to continued reliance on existing societal beliefs and attitudes that
support the conflict, and facilitate resistance to persuasive arguments that may contradict these
narratives (see Bar-Tal & Halperin, 2011). Thus, the major challenge researchers and
practitioners face is to change the fundamental societal beliefs and attitudes about the conflict,
the goals, the rivals and the relationship with them, and about one’s own group and its past.
Changing these well-anchored, central, and long-lasting attitudes with one message or even
with a series of messages in a short time, is extremely challenging. However, as we will show,
there are messages that can provide information with the potential to lead people to
deliberative, more thoughtful reasoning, which may eventually be followed by the moderation
of their beliefs (Bar-Tal & Halperin, 2009; Evans, 2008; Kahneman, 2003; Kruglanski, 1989).
Thus, we argue that if we were able to observe that paradoxical thinking messages change the
beliefs and attitudes of hardliners in the context of an intractable conflict, it serves as a
validation of the effectiveness of the new approach, as well as its potential effectiveness with
regard to other issues. Before describing the paradoxical thinking conceptual framework, the
next section briefly describes several major points regarding attitude change with a focus on
the context of intractable conflict.
3. Attitude Change
Understanding change of beliefs and attitudes is based on the accumulated knowledge,
mostly in social psychology, about persuasion or attitude change (Ajzen, 2001; Eagly &
Chaiken, 1993; Forgas, Cooper, & Crano, 2010; Prislin & Wood, 2005). In 1953, a Yale group
led by Hovland and his colleagues (Hovland, Janis, & Kelley, 1953) offered a seminal
contribution to attitude change that has served as the general framework for this research,
including in the context of intractable conflict. It directed attention to at least four factors to be
considered in every attempt to elicit attitude change: messenger, message, target audience, and
context. Aiming to analyze paradoxical thinking, we focus solely on messages as one major
means to change attitudes in the particular context of intractable conflict.
Messages have been considered by many students of attitude change as a focal factor,
containing the arguments and their scope, the relevant and irrelevant stimuli, the basis of the
arousal of specific discrete emotions and a general affective state, and behavioral guidance.
This observation applies similarly to messages presented on central or peripheral routes, as
proposed by different scholars (Chaiken, Wood, & Eagly, 1996; Crano, & Prislin, 2006; Petty,
1995; Petty, & Cacioppo, 1986). In this vein, Crano and Prislin (2006) noted that "[t]he
standard models of change, which continue to garner considerable attention, take a number of
different forms, but their basic understandings of the cause-effect patterns of attitude change
are limited. In the classical models, messages are presented, processed, and if successful, move
recipients’ attitudes toward the advocated position" (p. 348). The vast literature about messages
has especially focused on their types, position, style, structure, quality and quantity of the
information provided, characteristics, and spacing, but much less on the use of message
contents supporting or negating the attitude (Albarracín, 2002; Maio & Haddock, 2015;
McGuire, 1969; Mutz, Sniderman & Brody, 1996). Messages may fall into different categories,
representing different types of approaches, with different epistemic bases, but all, if absorbed
and understood, are supposed to lead to at least some cognitive processing that may result in
reevaluation and then modification of initial attitudes.
Through the years, a number of methods have been used, including attempting to
change attitudes held by society members in the context of intractable conflict (Bar-Tal, &
Hameiri, in press; Blumberg, Hare, & Costin, 2006; McGlynn, Zembylas, Bekerman, &
Gallagher, 2009; Paluck, 2012). These methods are based on the general theoretical assumption
that individuals will accept a message inconsistent with their held knowledge, if it sheds new
light on the object in question and is more persuasive, accurate, correct, and truthful than the
previously held beliefs and attitudes. Whether the message is absorbed, understood, and
accepted is argued to be contingent upon the message recipients’ cognitive response to the
persuasive attempt (Greenwald, 1968). This model generally argues that message recipients
tend to accept persuasive messages as valid if their conclusions are consistent with their held
beliefs and attitudes, and reject or resist them when they are inconsistent. Thus, according to
this traditional and well-established approach, when individuals invest cognitive resources to
process messages, they are persuaded by convincing, reliable, and credible messages (e.g.,
Petty & Cacioppo, 1986) because of an epistemic fear of invalidity, which leads to a motivation
to avoid inaccuracies and mistakes in their knowledge (Kruglanski, 1989). A number of
theories account for this kind of motivation as an attitude change approach, though other
motivations have also been suggested to underlie attitude change, such as affirmation of
personal value and defense of self-concept (see Chaiken et al., 1996).
Most notably, the theories of inconsistency propose that exposure to a message that is
inconsistent with the held belief or attitude arouses an unpleasant psychological state, leading
to behaviors designed to regain consistency (Cooper & Fazio, 1984; Festinger, 1957; Osgood
& Tannenbaum, 1955; but see Kruglanski et al., 2018). The theories propose that one way to
achieve consistency is to change the held belief or attitude to be consistent with the received
message. Nevertheless, the theories of inconsistency also realize that this is not necessarily the
only way to achieve consistency, which can also be achieved by rejection of the new message
(Festinger, 1957). Individuals may reject the new message by using various psychological
mechanisms, including defense mechanisms suggested originally by Freud (1915/1961) and
later adapted by social psychologists (see Baumeister, Dale & Sommer, 1998), especially when
the information conveyed in the messages starkly negates the held beliefs and attitudes (Sherif
& Hovland, 1961). In addition, Kruglanski (1989; see also Kruglanski et al., 2018) proposed
that beliefs and attitudes are motivated by epistemic needs, and that the extent and nature of
the motivation determines whether they will change, and under what conditions change will
happen (see Kunda, 1990). This means that individuals who receive attitude-inconsistent
information, but are motivated to reach a specific closure as they are inclined to adhere to their
held beliefs and attitudes and consider them valid, will reject this information even if the
information is valid and truthful.
Another theory relevant to our approach is the social judgment theory proposed by
Sherif and Hovland (1961). It describes how people relate their personal attitudes to messages
that they encounter, rendering which information will be accepted and assimilated and which
will be rejected. According to the theory, individuals hold, in addition to their own personal
attitude, latitudes of what they think about the attitudes expressed in the messages: how
acceptable or unacceptable these messages are. Sherif and Hovland (1961) conceptualized the
personal space related to attitudes as an amalgam of three latitudes: (1) the latitude
of acceptance, which is the range of attitudes that a person sees as reasonable or worthy of
consideration; (2) the latitude of rejection, which is the range of attitudes that a person sees as
unreasonable or objectionable; and (3) the latitude of non-commitment, which is the range of
attitudes that a person sees as neither acceptable nor questionable. Another factor in the theory
is ego involvement, which denotes the importance or centrality of an issue to a person's life,
i.e., how extreme a person feels on an issue, which is often reflected in the group membership
with a known position. Religion and politics are examples that typically result in highly
involved attitudes as they contribute to one's self-identity.
People who are highly involved in their attitudes, often having extreme opinions, have
large latitude of rejection because they already have formed their strong opinions and usually
are not willing to change them. They also have more restricted latitude of acceptance and thus
it is harder to persuade them with attitude-inconsistent information. In contrast, individuals
who care less about an issue or have less ego involvement are likely to have a large latitude of
acceptance and, as a result, are more likely to accept new opinions about an issue.
Consequently, when a message does not diverge greatly from the latitude of acceptance, it will
be accepted (or assimilated), and the person will shift towards the position expressed in the
message (e.g., Atkins, Deaux, & Bieri, 1967; Peterson & Koulack, 1969). There are some
indications that this is true only for individuals with wide latitude of acceptance, such that for
individuals with a narrower latitude attitude-inconsistent messages are not persuasive in any
case (see Eagly & Telaak, 1972).
Furthermore, in line with others (Albarracín & Shavitt, 2018; Bohner & Dickel, 2011;
Martin & Hewstone, 2008), we suggest that any model of attitude change must take into
account the context in which it takes place, because the person’s conception of the situation (or
environment) highly determines their behavioral possibilities and eventually the chosen routes
of action (Lewin, 1951). In our view, the significance of the collective context lies in its
dictation of society members' needs and goals, and the challenges they must meet to satisfy
them. It also provides opportunities and limitations, stimulations and inhibitions, as well as
spaces and boundaries for human behavior (Bar-Tal & Halperin, 2013; Wood, 2000). Indeed,
while various interventions were found to be effective in particular contexts, when used in
contexts that are characterized by intense competition, well-entrenched mistrust, and hostility
such as intractable conflicts, they suffer from serious limitations as we elaborate below (Bar-
Tal & Hameiri, in press; Bekerman & Maoz, 2005; Nadler & Liviatan, 2006; Tropp, 2015;
Vorauer & Sasaki, 2009).
In the context of intractable conflict, it should be noted that there are at least two ways
to present an attitude-inconsistent message about the conflict. First, the most common way is
to provide accurate and validated direct information that sheds new light on the held beliefs. In
essence, the contradicting information is supposed to be more credible, accurate, based on
validated knowledge and even undisputable for the dissonance to be resolved in its favor. In
this vein, the information can be provided through mass media or through educational systems.
Media can be used to transmit information to a wide public about the new peaceful goals, the
rival group, one’s own group, and the developing relations (Wolfsfeld, 2004). In schools, pupils
can be exposed to new knowledge about the conflict, the rival and even their own group (Bar-
Tal, Rosen, & Nets-Zehngut, 2010; Deutsch, 2005; McGlynn et al., 2009). To illustrate,
Papadakis (2008) presented an example from the Cypriot educational system, where, in spite
of the continuous conflict, the schoolbooks began to provide new information about the history
of the conflict that negated its mainstream national collective memory.
Second, contradicting messages can be induced indirectly by enabling experiences from
which a person can infer a conclusion that is different from her held beliefs and attitudes. In
these interventions, instead of presenting information that explicitly contradicts held societal
beliefs and attitudes, the aim is to facilitate attitude change by enabling an experience that is
only implicitly contradictory to held societal beliefs. This may involve, for example, creating
a situation in which members of two groups who are in conflict and initially have mutual
negative repertoires towards each other come in contact (Allport, 1954; Pettigrew, 1998). In a
typical contact intervention (e.g., intergroup contact, Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006, 2008; and
dialogue groups, Halabi, 2004; Nagda, Yeakley, Gurin & Sorensen, 2012; Wagner, &
Hewstone, 2012), the basic premise, dating back to Allport (1954), is that a normative
interaction with equals that promotes cooperation should reduce prejudice and animosity
between adversaries, as they get to know each other personally and on human terms (for a
review of contact interventions in contexts of intergroup conflict, see Al Ramiah & Hewstone,
The line of research about the effects of contact on intergroup relations in situations of
conflict is probably one of the most extensive in social sciences. Providing just a few
illustrations: large-scale interventions in Northern Ireland sought to facilitate cross-community
contact between Catholics and Protestants to promote values of tolerance and acceptance of
cultural and political differences among local communities (Cairns, Dunn & Giles, 1992);
Malhotra and Liyange (2005) organized a four-day peace camp in Sri Lanka between Tamil
and Sinhalese young adults to increase empathy between the two rival groups; and in the
context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, dozens of planned contact programs between Israeli
Jews and Palestinians have been conducted each year since the mid-1980s. They have ranged
from one-time meetings to long-term continuous series of meetings, typically including eight
to twelve participants from each nationality and facilitated by a Jewish and an Arab facilitator.
They have been undertaken within a diverse range of demographic groups, including youths,
university students, university professors, and other professionals (Adwan, & Bar-On, 2000;
Maoz, 2004, 2011; Yablon, 2012).
4. Limitations of Traditional Approaches in the Context of Intractable Conflict
The presented approaches for interventions have yielded noteworthy results in
intergroup relations in various contexts and with different outcome variables. Nevertheless, we
argue that they are generally less effective in harsh, prolonged, and bloody conflictive settings,
or in well anchored cases of prejudice and discrimination against minority groups, given basic
mistrust between the groups that characterizes these cases (e.g., Bekerman & Maoz, 2005;
Tropp, 2015; Vorauer & Sasaki, 2009).
First, in situations like intractable conflicts, many interventions may be ineffective:
when the repertoire is central, held with great confidence, and with high involvement (Bar-Tal,
Raviv, & Freund, 1994; Eagly & Chaiken, 1993; see also Petty & Krosnick, 1995); when this
repertoire, and especially the conflict-related beliefs, constitute a coherent interrelated structure
that forms an ideology (Bar-Tal, Sharvit, Halperin, & Zafran, 2012; Tetlock, 1989); when this
repertoire fulfills important functions for the individual (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993); and when
the beliefs of this repertoire are underlined by a motivational factor, i.e., specific closure needs
(Kruglanski, 1989, 2004). Sometimes the frozen beliefs and attitudes result from prolonged
socialization and indoctrination that impart, disseminate, and reinforce them continuously
(Bar-Tal, Diamond, & Nasie, 2017; Persianis, 2017; Vered & Bar-Tal, 2016). As such, society
members view their knowledge as truthful and valid and therefore it is very difficult to change.
They not only often refuse to be exposed to the alternative information, but also when exposed
to it, they tend to reject it automatically, without trying to process it deliberately (Kahneman,
2003, 2011; Sloman, 2014).
Second, in many cases society members are not motivated to change their beliefs and
attitudes (for example, a conflict-supporting repertoire) and are not interested in taking part in
situations that might expose them to new alternative information. Thus, they use various
defense mechanisms to protect their convictions, feeling secure with them in the situation of
conflict (Mitzen, 2006). For example, living in the context of culture of conflict with its
routinization, society members become desensitized to threats and dangers, on the one hand,
and habituated to the context of conflict on the other (Bar-Tal, Abutbul-Selinger, & Raviv,
2014). In this psychological state, contradictory information may even lead to stress fed by
feelings of uncertainty and risk taking. As a result, individuals who hold societal beliefs
supporting the conflict are more inclined to reject possibilities of exposure to contradictory
information (Bar-Tal & Raviv, in press; Halperin & Bar-Tal, 2011). It is even suggested that
the continuation of the conflict becomes a need by itself, because the conflict supporting beliefs
and attitudes fulfil well the needs of the society members and any change of the situation brings
stress, uncertainty and insecurity. Society members thus rest in the "comfort zone" of the
conflict. All this pending that the violence is manageable and does not cause much troubles
(see Bar-Tal & Raviv, in press).
Finally, some of the interventions require specific conditions, such as opportunities to
make contact with the rival or being in a context where the alternative information is permitted,
or in a culture where alternative information is easily accessible. This means that, in principle,
the interventions can either be used only in particular contexts, or that they will be more or less
effective depending on the context, as they have their limitations and restrictions, related to
freedom of information flow, freedom of movement, and so on. For example, not in every
conflict situation do possibilities for contact between representatives of the two rival groups
exist. Thus, interventions must consider the parameters of the context (Bar-Tal & Hameiri, in
press; Bekerman & Maoz, 2005; Hammack, 2009).
In sum, considering the limitations of using attitude-inconsistent messages, we sought
to develop a new paradigm of attitude change based on a different principle: a paradigm that
(1) does not provide counter information to induce inconsistency; (2) does not raise strong
defensive reactions; (3) motivates the individual to re-evaluate the held societal beliefs and
attitudes via a reasoning process; and (4) is easy to implement, without requiring special
conditions such as contact between the parties in conflict, thereby eliminating logistical
constraints and potential reprisals. The most important challenge and requisite is to prevent
automatic information processing and instead instigate a slow, deliberative process of
reasoning (Kahneman, 2011) that causes an individual to raise an epistemic question following
exposure to the message (Kruglanski, 1989). We will now describe the paradoxical thinking
paradigm that fits these criteria, suggesting a different conception of attitude change.
5. Paradoxical Thinking
In presenting the paradoxical thinking paradigm for changing attitudes, we propose a
method that is based on using a new nonjudgmental relevant message that is consistent with
the held beliefs and attitudes but is provided with an amplified, exaggerated or even absurd
content. The presented message is first meant to be understood and then is expected to arouse
surprise, or a sense of absurdity when compared to the held beliefs and attitudes or the current
situation. Instead of eliciting inconsistency using counter-attitudinal information, the consistent
paradoxical thinking message, is first supposed to surprise the individual, and then induce a
deliberative examination of the held beliefs and attitudes. In turn, the deliberation may lead to
the realization that something in the individual’s beliefs is perhaps wrong, nonsensical,
improbable, unacceptable or strange. This realization could, in our view, motivate individuals
to ask epistemic questions, which then possibly can stimulate unfreezing of held beliefs and
attitudes, reflected in openness and readiness to change them (see Bar-Tal & Halperin, 2009;
Kruglanski, 1989). Indeed, much like the traditional approach, the effectiveness of the
paradoxical thinking approach is based on the message recipients’ cognitive response to the
message (Greenwald, 1968). However, within the framework of Sherif and Hovland (1961),
while attitude-inconsistent messages that fall within the message recipients’ latitude of
acceptance are assimilated; recipients exposed to consistent, far-fetched, messages reject them,
and then move away from the attitudes conveyed in these messages, which means that a
moderating effect is taking place. Ultimately, "changes in the direction opposite to the
advocated by communication will be more frequent when the discrepancy between the stands
taken in communication and by the subject is large" (Sherif & Hovland, 1961, p. 157).
Let us examine each part of the definition in detail. First, paradoxical thinking messages
are consistent with held beliefs and attitudes, but are provided in an amplified, exaggerated or
even absurd manner. This means that the messages have to fall within the supporting range of
the held beliefs and attitudes of the person, but are very discrepant, expressing very extreme
content that is viewed even as absurd. They, thus, fall within the latitude of rejection.
Second, paradoxical thinking uses nonjudgmental messages without directly providing
their evaluations or implications. Paradoxical thinking messages do not contradict or negate
the held attitude, but provide content that takes the held attitude to the extreme. This means
that the messages approve of the held belief and attitude, and indicate that their scope may be
broadened a great deal, even to an absurdity. This is a crucial point in the paradoxical thinking
framework and has two potential implications: (1) Using nonjudgmental messages leaves the
intention of the message source or their stance on the issue ambiguous, and thus reduces any
social pressure that might be implied in the communication, as well as defensive reactions.
This leads the message recipients to process the message more thoroughly and to come to a
conclusion on their own (Arieli, Grant & Sagiv, 2013; Perloff, 2010; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986).
(2) In some cases, expressing extreme messages without judging them as extreme, or without
expressing emotions that signal them as extreme, may lead to an attempt to compensate for
what is perceived as an inappropriate response to the implausible content, which may facilitate
a process of attitude change (cf. Goldenberg, Saguy & Halperin, 2014). Nevertheless, we argue
that it is crucial that the paradoxical message is not perceived as intending to ridicule the
recipient or to manipulate him/her or as aiming to change his/her beliefs and attitudes. Such
attribution and understanding of the purpose by the recipient may hinder the whole process by
triggering an automatic rejection of the message (see Frankl, 1975; Miller & Rollnick, 2002).
Third, the blatant extremism of paradoxical thinking messages or the subtle
extrapolation of absurd conclusions from the recipient's own beliefs and attitudes is meant to
elicit surprise, as well as sense of absurdity regarding the held attitudes or the current
situation. This notion is the essence of the paradoxical thinking approach, building on the
classic debating technique reductio ad absurdum (Rescher, 2005). A sense of surprise should
lead to epistemic questions that begin a deliberative-cognitive process. This may bring about
cognitive change when the former way of thinking is short-circuited and the deliberative
process derails resistance, allowing the individuals to ask themselves new questions, or open
themselves to new information, even when their own attitudes are extreme and well-
Surprise, as a psychological instigator of attitude change, has received extensive
attention in the social psychological literature (e.g., Davis & Knowles, 1999; Itti & Baldi, 2009;
Kahneman & Miller, 1986; Maguire, Maguire & Keane, 2011; Petty, Fleming, Priester &
Feinstein, 2001; Vanhamme, 2000; Ziegler, Diehl & Ruther, 2002). Surprise takes place when
an observed expectancy-incongruent event causes a coherent cognition or schema to break
down, leading to an urgent process of sense-making to restore coherence (Itti & Baldi, 2009;
Kahneman & Miller, 1986; Maguire et al., 2011). When a stimulus or a message is surprising,
it prompts individuals to focus their attention at it, heightens processing and in-depth
exploration, and eventually it may also make the message more persuasive (e.g., Meyer,
Reisenzein & Schützwohl, 1997; Petty et al., 2001; Ziegler et al., 2002). We argue that
paradoxical thinking messages are surprising because they are unexpected and novel to the
message recipients, due to the blatantly extreme statements, or the exaggerated, absurd
conclusions that are drawn from the message recipients’ held beliefs and attitudes. In other
words, the recipient of the message did not think that the views he/ she holds could be extended
to such an extreme expression. Attitude-inconsistent messages, however, are generally less
surprising as individuals that live in contexts of intractable conflict are accustomed to, and
expect, persuasive attempts with attitude-inconsistent information about the enemy or the
conflict (see e.g., Hameiri et al., 2018).
The notion that surprise can help circumvent resistance to persuasion has been the basis
of at least one social influence technique, termed disrupt-then-reframe (DTR; Davis &
Knowles, 1999; see also Kardes, Fennis, Hirt, Tormala, & Bullington, 2007). This technique,
that includes a small distraction (e.g., stating a price in pennies rather than in dollars), and then
reframing the situation (e.g., arguing that what you are selling is a bargain) was found to be an
effective technique for gaining compliance. While DTR shares the element of surprise with the
paradoxical thinking approach, we argue that their differences would most likely make it
ineffective in contexts in which beliefs and attitudes are more entrenched, and resistance levels
are high. Specifically, in DTR, as opposed to the paradoxical thinking approach, the disruption,
or the surprising effect, is in fact intended to lead to lower levels of message processing (Fennis,
Das, & Pruyn, 2004). Additionally, it includes a direct persuasive phrase or request that follows
the disruption. In general, DTR has been examined almost exclusively in different negotiation
scenarios where resistance levels were generally minimal. Still, in a meta-analysis, it was found
that even in these contexts, DTR was more effective in a nonprofit fund-raising context
compared to a sales context (Carpenter & Boster, 2009). Arguably, this is because individuals
are more alert and critical, and engage in a more thorough processing of the message in a sales
context than in a nonprofit one (Fennis et al., 2004). Ultimately, these negotiation scenarios
are quite different from contexts such as intractable conflicts, where society members are
constantly socialized with conflict-related beliefs and attitudes, as discussed above (e.g., Bar-
Tal, 2013; Bar-Tal et al., 2017; Bar-Tal, Oren, & Nets-Zehngut, 2014).
Furthermore, based on classic persuasion theories (Chaiken, Liberman & Eagly, 1989;
Kruglanski & Thompson, 1999; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986), it seems that individuals invest great
effort when processing the paradoxical thinking message because it creates a sense of
ambiguity, uncertainty and/or improbability. Kruglanski, Dechesne, Orehek, and Pierro (2009)
proposed that the greater the demands of the task (e.g., more surprising and puzzling), the
greater the processing resources that must be used. In this vein, Petty, Tormala and Rucker
(2004), in their model of attempted resistance, suggest that if individuals are trying to counter-
argue against a persuasive appeal, but their attempts are unsuccessful, it will make them less
confident in the beliefs and attitudes they have been trying to defend (see also Tormala,
Clarkson & Petty, 2006). Specifically, we propose that the paradoxical thinking messages are
weird and farfetched, but not counter-attitudinal (or pro-attitudinal) per se. Therefore, they do
not allow the creation of what is perceived as effective counter-arguments, even after a great
deal of invested effort, and consequently, they lead to the weakening of the held beliefs and
Another basic tenet of paradoxical thinking is that it leaves space for the message
recipients to reach a conclusion by themselves. The literature does not have a clear
recommendation regarding whether a persuasive message should have an implicit or explicit
conclusion, even though it seems that the general tendency is to recommend implicit
conclusions when facing a knowledgeable audience (Linder & Worchel, 1970; Perloff, 2010;
Petty & Cacioppo, 1986; but see McGuire, 1969; O'Keefe, 2015). In addition, there are some
indications that having the recipients come to a conclusion on their own will have a more
persuasive effect than giving it to them on a silver platter, and that they are especially effective
with hostile message recipients. Implicit conclusions often prevent the arousal of reactance,
psychological defenses, and immediate rejection of the message (Perloff, 2010).
Finally, paradoxical thinking is expected to be especially effective with those who are
more (vs. less) extreme as the paradoxical thinking extreme and exaggerated messages fall
within their latitude of rejection, and they then try to differentiate themselves from these
messages, therefore moderating their views. Indeed, there is growing evidence that using
paradoxical thinking techniques can be particularly effective with resistant individuals with
more extreme views. This notion is quite evident in the clinical psychological literature (e.g.,
Erickson & Rossi, 1975; Frankl, 1975; Haley, 1973; Miller & Rollnick, 2002). The literature
on motivational interviewing (MI), a counseling approach developed for treating problem
drinkers and other behavioral problems (e.g., Miller & Rollnick, 2002; Rollnick & Miller,
1995), indicates that it is particularly effective with angry and defensive patients who show the
greatest resistance to change (Allen et al., 1997). For example, one of the basic tenets of MI is
that in order to persuade particularly resistant or ambivalent patients, direct counter-arguments
are counterproductive and only lead to more resistance. Therefore, they suggest using
psychological judo, i.e., a metaphor for overcoming resistance by slightly turning or reframing
the resistance that a person offers, in order to create new momentum toward change.
We find that the social judgment theory (Sherif & Hovland, 1961) illuminates our
paradoxical thinking conception, and supplies additional empirical observations. As mentioned
above, individuals with low involvement that receive a consistent message that falls within (or
in proximity to) their latitude of acceptance will likely accept this message and be persuaded
by it (e.g., Atkins et al., 1967; Peterson & Koulack, 1969). More relevant to the paradoxical
thinking conceptual framework, when the message advocates a position far removed from the
latitude of acceptance, that falls within the latitude of rejection, a contrast effect occurs and the
communication is evaluated as "unfair", "biased", or "farfetched" (Sherif & Hovland, 1961).
In these cases, we suggest that a boomerang effect will take place; that is, the person’s attitude
is likely to shift away from the attitude expressed in the message by moderating it. The person
does not want to be perceived as holding such an absurd belief or to be associated with a group
that holds it (Bar-Tal, 1990).
A study about prohibition, conducted by Hovland, Harvey and Sherif (1957),
demonstrated this moderation effect that occurred when messages fell within the participants’
latitude of rejection, due to the discrepancy between the conveyed messages and their held
beliefs. In our framework, we focus only on consistent messages whose content is discrepant
from the held beliefs and attitudes and therefore fall within the latitude of rejection, which
renders a moderating effect. In contrast, when the message is inconsistent with the held beliefs
and attitudes and falls within the latitude of rejection, a person with high involvement ignores
the content, activating automatic thinking and defense mechanisms (Eagly & Telaak, 1972). In
a similar vein, research by Swann et al. (1988), which we will describe more in detail in the
next section, found that consistent, but extreme messages (as opposed to more moderate or
attitude-inconsistent messages) were more effective with participants who were more certain
in their attitudes, and as a consequence showed more general disagreement with the attitude-
inconsistent messages. Last, in the research conducted by Hameiri and colleagues (i.e., Hameiri
et al., 2016, 2018; Hameiri, Porat et al., 2014), on which we will also elaborate later in the
chapter, we found clear evidence that a paradoxical thinking intervention was particularly
effective with individuals who were adamant in their views and resistant to attitude change in
the context of an intergroup conflict: Hawkish
participants in these studies tended to express
more conciliatory attitudes to Palestinians and to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after being
exposed to paradoxical thinking messages.
In sum, we argue that the paradoxical thinking messages aim to instigate an intra-
individual cognitive process of questioning the person's held beliefs and attitudes. In other
words, the message, in spite of being ultimately rejected, is supposed to arouse motivation to
reevaluate long-held beliefs and attitudes, to search for new ideas and information, to consider
this information, and eventually to moderate held beliefs and attitudes. In the present case, the
provided message is meant to arouse surprise, which in turn should motivate individuals to
examine and reevaluate their held beliefs and attitudes, and raise self-created new counter
ideas. This hypothesis is based on the key premise of the paradoxical thinking paradigm,
suggesting that the message, which is consistent (but amplified or exaggerated) with the held
beliefs and attitudes, though being rejected, does not lead to a short thinking process (automatic
rejection) and does not raise psychological defenses, but opens a way for deliberative thinking
and thus to possible unfreezing (see Kruglanski, 1989). In order for this to happen, and as we
elaborate below, one crucial aspect of the paradoxical thinking approach is that it also
challenges the most central aspects of the message recipient’s identity.
5.1 Indications of paradoxical thinking in psychological literature
Most of the early evidence on techniques using the strategy of paradoxical thinking
comes from the clinical psychological literature. These pieces of evidence (e.g., Frankl, 1975;
In Israel, society members are identified by their approach to the most important issue that challenges Israeli
society, i.e., views of the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict. Rightists, also termed hawks, tend to believe in the
necessity to retain at least major parts of the territories occupied in the 1967 war, do not trust Arabs, do not view
Palestinians as partners to peacemaking, support aggressive measures against Palestinians, and support Jewish
settlement of the West Bank. Leftists, or doves, tend to believe that it is necessary to end the occupation, support
a peaceful solution, such as the two-state solution, oppose Jewish settlement, and believe that Palestinians are
partners to the peace process. Centrists tend to fall between these two views (Arian, 1995; Bar-Tal et al., 1994).
Miller & Rollnick, 2002; Watzlawick, Weakland, & Fisch, 1974; for a review see Riebel, 1984)
suggest that individuals who are provided with amplified or exaggerated information or
instructions that are in line with their held beliefs, attitudes, or behavior may change these,
even when they are extremely negative and well entrenched. Using a similar line of thought,
Viktor Frankl (1975), for example, advised his patients instead of avoiding the fear-arousing
stimulus, to think about very fearful cases, or in his words, "to do, or wish to happen, the very
things [they fear]" (Frankl, 1975, p. 227). Using this method, that is still regarded as having
much to offer for clinical psychologists (e.g., Schulenberg, Hutzell, Nassif, & Rogina, 2008),
Frankl successfully treated difficult cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobia (see
also Frankl, 2004).
Another example is a technique termed amplified reflection, derived from the literature
on motivational interviewing (MI), a counseling approach developed for treatment with
problem drinkers, and other behavioral problems (e.g., Miller & Rollnick, 2002; Rollnick &
Miller, 1995). One of the basic tenets of MI is that, in order to persuade resistant or ambivalent
patients, direct counter-arguments are counterproductive as individuals tend to reject, or resist
them by denying them or rationalizing their meaning. Therefore, and as mentioned above, the
use of psychological judo is suggested, i.e., overcoming resistance by altering or reframing the
provided messages in order to overcome the resistance and create a new momentum toward a
change of behavior (Miller & Rollnick, 2002). For example, if a client, who is a heavy smoker,
argues that "studies about cancer do not prove anything", the therapist or interviewer can reply,
"Indeed, lung cancer has nothing to do with smoking. It just happens" (Miller & Rollnick,
2002). This response is an amplified or exaggerated version of the patient's beliefs, which is
achieved by extrapolating an absurd conclusion from the patient’s own words. According to
the motivational interviewing approach, this will circumvent possible resistance and will help
the patient question his or her original views. Put differently, similar to reductio ad absurdum,
when using the technique of amplified reflection, the therapist, in essence, is instructed to
reflect a subtle exaggeration or amplification, or an absurd conclusion that is extrapolated from
the patient’s own resistance, attitudes and beliefs.
Searching through social psychological literature, we found a single piece of evidence
for what we call the use of paradoxical thinking in an attempt to change attitudes. A study
conducted by Swann and colleagues in 1988 aimed to investigate the effects of paradoxical
self-verification in order to change participants' conservative attitudes about gender
(specifically women's) roles. Based on Watzlawick et al.'s (1974) ideas, they developed a
strategy in which participants were presented with leading questions that encouraged them to
answer with statements that were consistent, but were more extreme, than their prior attitudes.
Specifically, participants with conservative beliefs about gender roles were recruited for the
experiment and then randomly assigned to one of two conditions. In the conventional-strategy
condition, participants were asked to answer a series of ten leading questions that were
inconsistent with their beliefs (i.e., liberal; e.g., "Why do you think women make better bosses
than men?"). In the paradoxical-strategy condition, participants were asked to answer a series
of ten leading questions that encouraged them to make statements that were consistent with
their conservative beliefs, but blatantly more extreme (i.e., extremely conservative; e.g., "Why
do you sympathize with the feelings of some men that women are better kept barefoot and
pregnant?"). Results from their studies indicated that participants who were highly certain of
their conservative views of gender roles showed the greatest moderation of their views when
they were presented with leading questions in the paradoxical-strategy condition.
In Swann et al.’s view (1988), based on the self-verification theory (Swann, 1983,
1987), individuals who are highly certain in their beliefs are invested in bringing others to see
them as they see themselves. Therefore, they resist persuasive efforts of others. The authors
argue that similarly, high-certain individuals also resist the paradoxical messages, thus making
statements inconsistent with their initial positions and changing their beliefs in line with these
statements. Importantly, Swann et al. (1988) argued that high-certain individuals changed their
beliefs because they resisted (operationalized as general disagreement with the leading
questions) the paradoxical leading questions. After describing paradoxical thinking as a
conception of attitude change, the next section will present empirical evidence for its existence,
mostly in the very challenging context of intractable conflict.
5.2 Establishing the paradoxical thinking phenomenon
The development of the paradoxical thinking paradigm began with a study by Hameiri,
Porat et al. (2014), carried out in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this study,
Jewish-Israeli participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions. In the paradoxical
thinking condition, they viewed a video campaign with messages relating to the Israeli–
Palestinian conflict. Participants watched five-minute videos containing, in counterbalanced
order, three generic television commercials, completely unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, and three paradoxical thinking videos with different themes related to the conflict. In
the control condition, participants were exposed to a video-clip of similar length, containing
six television commercials unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Participants were
exposed to these materials in six waves, with three to four days between each exposure.
The paradoxical thinking campaign included YouTube video clips expressing ideas that
were consistent with the shared conflict-supporting societal beliefs of Jews in Israel, but in an
amplified, exaggerated manner, by extrapolating absurd conclusions. These 30-second video
clips emphasized how Jewish-Israelis construe their identity based on their conflict-related
experiences. Each video clip presented one core Jewish-Israeli identity theme—a conflict-
supporting belief of ethos of conflict, shared by the majority of the Jewish Israeli population
(e.g., belief in self-glorification, unity, or victimhood; see Bar-Tal, 2013; Bar-Tal et al.,
2012)—and ended by suggesting that Israelis cannot afford to peacefully end the Israeli–
Palestinian conflict, as its continuation helps maintain these societal beliefs of the ethos of
conflict. Importantly, the clips did not refute the core conflict-supporting beliefs, but rather
amplified them to extrapolate an absurd conclusion, such as that in order for them to be moral,
Jewish-Israelis probably need the conflict.
As expected, the results showed that the paradoxical thinking intervention, compared
to the control condition, led participants to show more cognitive unfreezing, namely, an
increased willingness to reevaluate their beliefs. It also led centrist and (marginally
significantly) rightist participants to express increased support for conciliatory statements
toward the Palestinians, indicating that Palestinians were perceived as less responsible for the
continuation of the conflict (see Figure 1). The paradoxical thinking intervention effects were
long lasting as, when reassessed a year later, participants in the intervention condition (vs. the
control condition) expressed more willingness to compromise in order to promote a peaceful
conflict resolution. Finally, the intervention even influenced participants’ actual voting patterns
in the 2013 Israeli general elections: Participants who were exposed to the paradoxical
intervention, which took place in proximity to the general elections, reported that they tended
to vote more for dovish parties which advocated a peaceful resolution to the conflict (see Figure
Following these promising results, we next sought to examine the paradoxical thinking
intervention in a more naturalistic environment among individuals who are not necessarily
aware of their participation in an experiment. In order to do so, Hameiri et al. (2016) designed
a multi-channeled campaign based on the intervention materials used in Hameiri, Porat et al.
(2014). This campaign included three channels of dissemination: online video-clips and
banners, billboard posters, and fieldwork in which t-shirts, balloons and brochures were handed
out. The campaign was administered in a small city in the center of Israel during a period of
six weeks. In order to assess the campaign's effectiveness, the study used a pre-post field
experiment design. The paradoxical thinking condition was compared to a control condition in
which participants were sampled from the area surrounding the targeted city and were matched
to those sampled in the city in terms of their socio-political parameters. Results showed that
the intervention led rightist participants to decrease their adherence to conflict-supporting
beliefs across time, while the levels remained constant for the participants in the control
condition (see Figure 3). These effects were obtained despite the fact that shortly after the
campaign began the Israeli-Palestinian conflict re-escalated and violence erupted throughout
Israel and the West Bank. In Israel, escalation of violence causes the hardening of the conflict
supporting beliefs and attitudes (Canetti, et al, 2017). Furthermore, compared to participants in
the control condition, rightist participants in the paradoxical thinking condition expressed less
support for aggressive policies (see Figure 4) and more support for conciliatory policies (see
Figure 5) by the Israeli government in the face of the eruption of violence.
To summarize, in two large-scale studies, we established the paradoxical thinking
paradigm as an effective means to moderate attitudes in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, which is a prototypical intractable conflict. This held true in both an online field
experiment with long lasting behavioral manifestations and in a real-world campaign.
Importantly, these effects were more pronounced among the more rightist, or hawkish,
participants who tend to adhere to more conflict-supporting beliefs and attitudes in this context.
These encouraging results led us to expand the scope of the paradigm by examining its
mechanism and by testing it in different contexts, populations, and operationalizations.
5.3 Extending the scope of the paradigm
At first, to extend the paradigm’s validity to other populations and issues, Hameiri,
Nabet, Idan, Bar-Tal and Halperin (2017) examined the potential of the paradoxical thinking
paradigm to induce attitude change among more liberal participants, who tend to lean to the
political left. This study was also conducted in Israel, but this time in the context of another
divisive issue, namely, attitudes toward African refugees who had entered Israel illegally. In
the first phase of the study, conducted among Israeli Jews, participants were asked to read an
opinion editorial piece arguing that the National Health Insurance Law in Israel should be
applied to cover the refugees’ health needs, not only for humane, just, and moral reasons, but
also because it was prescribed by law. Then, participants were asked to indicate the degree of
their agreement with this editorial. A week later, those who tended to agree with the opinion
editorial were invited to take part in the second part of the study. Participants were randomly
assigned to read a response letter to the opinion editorial that was presented in one of three
versions (conditions): a paradoxical thinking condition, in which the letter was consistent with
what was argued in the original editorial, but blatantly more exaggerated or amplified; an
attitude-inconsistent condition, in which the response letter text opposed the original editorial
(providing contradictory information); and a control condition, in which the response letter text
only moderately agreed with the original editorial. This study also provided an opportunity to
directly compare presenting an attitude-inconsistent message (i.e., the traditional approach) and
a paradoxical thinking message.
In this study, the researchers used a measure of moral conviction, i.e., “a strong and
absolute belief that something is right or wrong, moral or immoral” (Skitka, Bauman & Sargis,
2005, p. 896) as a moderator, assuming that it was a good indicator for the extent to which
participants will be willing to thoroughly process different messages (regarding, in this case,
African refugees). In the terminology of the social judgment theory, we argue that moral
conviction would be a good indicator for the range and width of position tolerable by
participants (Eagly & Telaak, 1972). The results replicated previous findings in terms of
unfreezing, such that the high morally convicted participants showed more unfreezing in the
paradoxical thinking condition, compared to the attitude-inconsistent condition and
(marginally significantly) compared to the control condition. Furthermore, it seems that the
degree of unfreezing was associated with the realistic and symbolic threats (e.g., Stephan,
Ybarra & Bachman, 1999) participants perceived the refugees pose. The analysis indicated that
only for the high morally convicted participants in the paradoxical thinking condition there was
a marginally significant increase in perceived threat across time, while for all other participants
in the three conditions, the levels remained constant.
Recently, Knab and Steffens (2020) adapted the paradoxical thinking leading questions
paradigm (Hameiri et al., 2018; Swann et al., 1988) to the intergroup context of Germans
regarding the issue of refugees, and examined this approach in three studies, with samples of
German citizens and German politicians who held anti-refugee beliefs. The researchers found
direct effects of the paradoxical thinking manipulation (e.g., "Why do you think we will never
ever celebrate Christmas again due to the high increase of refugees?"), compared to an attitude-
inconsistent and neutral control conditions, on more information seeking and on willingness to
compromise on their anti-refugee beliefs. These direct effects in turn led to indirect effects on
participants' willingness to meet a refugee and support less violence against refugees. Finally,
the paradoxical thinking intervention also had an effect on commonly known determinants of
prejudice against refugees (e.g., symbolic and realistic threats).
The paradoxical thinking leading questions paradigm (Hameiri et al., 2018; Swann et
al., 1988) was recently examined by Shnabel, Blumberger, Bistritz and Bialer (2019) in the
context of relations between vegans and vegetarians on the one hand and omnivores on the
other. Shnabel et al.’s aim was to moderate negative views, prejudice and bias that some
individuals from each group have toward the other group (e.g., Maclnnis & Hodson, 2017).
The paradoxical thinking manipulation was tailored for omnivores (e.g., “Why vegans and
vegetarians are completely oblivious to the needs and welfare of human beings, and only care
about the needs and welfare of animals?”) and for the vegans and vegetarians group (e.g., “Why
omnivores are completely oblivious to the suffering of animals (such as chick culling) and only
care about their own personal pleasure?”). Compared to an inconsistent condition, the
paradoxical thinking intervention led participants to show more positive views toward the
outgroup, and openness to the outgroup’s viewpoint. Importantly, these effects were not
moderated by participants’ diet (i.e., whether they received the questions tailored to the
omnivores or to the vegans and vegetarians), suggesting that the manipulation was equally
effective for both groups (Shnabel et al., 2019). In summary, the studies reviewed in this
section, conducted in Israel and Germany and with different operationalizations, showed that
both anti- and pro-immigration individuals, as well as vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores,
moderated their views regarding targeted issues and outgroups, thus extending the scope of the
paradoxical thinking paradigm to different populations and contexts.
5.4 Paradoxical Thinking Mechanisms
In the next stage of the theory development, we decided to open the black box of the
paradoxical thinking paradigm. In other words, we attempted to reveal the psychological
mechanism underlying the obtained effects by elucidating the mediating variables (see Figure
6). This line of thought is based on the assumption that the paradoxical thinking message
effectiveness is based on the message recipients’ cognitive responses (Greenwald, 1968), such
that it tends to evoke a slow deliberative-cognitive processing rather than a fast, automatic,
intuitive processing that usually ends with rejection of the message (Evans, 2008; Kahneman,
2011; Sloman, 2002). The former process often succeeds in leading to unfreezing because a
paradoxical thinking message tends to be absorbed deliberatively, with less disagreement, as
well as with fewer psychological defenses. This occurs because the message is consistent with
the recipient's beliefs and attitudes in spite of the fact that it falls within his/her latitude of
rejection. In contrast, the fast and automatic process often indicates a continuation of belief and
Nevertheless, exposure to the paradoxical thinking message does not necessarily mean
that the message recipients will embark on in-depth slow processing. Slow processing is
dependent on whether the message is relevant to the recipients, and what kind of epistemic
motivation guides it (Y. Bar-Tal, Kishon-Rabin & Tabak, 1997; Kruglanski, Erb, Pierro,
Mannetti, & Chun, 2006; Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). Furthermore, Sherif and Hovland (1961)
considered high ego-involvement with the attitude (i.e., its centrality and importance) as an
important variable for the evaluation of the message (see also Hovland et al., 1957). An
additional crucial factor that determines whether the message will lead to in-depth processing
is whether its content is perceived as absurd, and has aroused a surprise reaction. The surprising
or absurd nature of the message, when relevant, raises motivation for its further processing in
order to defend the provoked threat to the individuals’ identity, on which we will elaborate
next, and restore their need for coherence and meaning (Itti & Baldi, 2009; Farrelly & Bransma,
1974; Maguire et al., 2011; Petty et al., 2001). This is an indispensable step that triggers the
deliberating process, as without it individuals would most likely reject the information
automatically. This assumption is based on Kahneman’s (2003, 2011) observation that the
deliberative process overrides the automatic one when competing considerations become
accessible and the person at least becomes aware of possible bias, which is our case in point.
The paradoxical thinking message opens up the possibility of considering competing thoughts
and they may lead to awareness of possible bias of own beliefs and attitudes through threat to
Looking at the whole deliberative process, we argue that it begins with raising epistemic
questions (Kruglanski, 1989). We suggest that after exposure to the surprising paradoxical
thinking message, individuals ask themselves at least two epistemic questions: What is this
message? And how do I relate to it? These questions reflect wonder at how to view the message
and how it relates to one’s own beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions of self-identity. These may
be detailed with other specific questions, such as: What is the goal of the message? What is the
goal of the message source? Are my attitudes and beliefs under attack? Should I defend them?
Is the information different from what I think? Is the message extreme? Compared to what?
(Reference group? Self-perception? Basic morality? Ought self?) Is the message legitimate?
Who else shares the same beliefs, attitudes, or conclusions raised in the message? (Individuals
from my group? From a different group?) Are the individuals/groups, who are the source of
the message, a positive or negative reference group? Is the person who expresses the message
legitimate? After raising these epistemic questions, we assume that individuals go through a
phase of reflection and information gathering. This deeper cognitive process is based on the
individual's stored knowledge and, if possible, on a gathering of external information, if
available (Kruglanski et al., 2005, 2009).
The next phase involves construction of hypotheses based on the epistemic questions
and testing them vis-à-vis the gathered evidence (Kruglanski et al., 2009). The hypotheses
evoke the key motivations to possible unfreezing. In our case, all motivations originate from
the psychological threat to the person's individual or social identity. We suggest that the
constructed hypotheses can be divided into three categories, which lead to different kinds of
threat to the individual's identity. First, people may construct a hypothesis regarding a
comparison between the extreme nature of the paradoxical thinking message and their own
beliefs and attitudes. Such a hypothesis enables testing a view that differentiates between the
actual and ought self (see Higgins, 1989). In this case, individuals may identify some
resemblance between their own beliefs and the paradoxical thinking message. This may cause
a sense of threat to personal identity because individuals may think that their position is viewed
by others as too extreme (Brown, Ryan, Creswell, & Niemiec, 2008). Thus, in order to
eliminate, or at least minimize the resemblance, individuals may moderate their beliefs.
Second, people may construct a hypothesis regarding a comparison between positive
and negative reference groups, that allows for differentiation between groups that they want to
be associated with and groups that they reject (Branscombe, Ellemers, Spears, & Doosje,
1999). A paradoxical thinking message associated with the negative reference groups may lead
to a threat to social identity because individuals do not want any association with negatively
evaluated groups. In this case, individuals will try to differentiate between the extreme beliefs
of the negative reference groups and their own beliefs and adopt more moderate beliefs (Jetten
& Hornsey, 2014; Swann et al., 1988; see also Monin, Sawyer & Marquez, 2008). Third, in
some cases individuals may raise a hypothesis regarding the validity of sources (or epistemic
authorities; see Kruglanski et al., 2005) on which they can potentially rely when forming their
beliefs and attitudes. A hypothesis about the relationship between the senseless paradoxical
thinking message and the source (leader, expert, journalist and so on) who expressed it, may
cause individuals to distance themselves from the message and its source by moderating their
own repertoire, after experiencing a threat to personal identity.
In conclusion, the hypothesized process described above identifies four major
mediating variables that operate once individuals are exposed to the paradoxical thinking
message: disagreement with the message, surprise, threat to identity, and then unfreezing that
leads to moderation of beliefs and attitudes. In our view, as explained, all four mediating
variables are necessary for activating and facilitating the process of attitude change. To the
extent that the paradoxical thinking message does not lead directly to strong disagreement and
complete rejection because it is consistent with the held attitude, surprise is probably the first
reaction to the identification of the absurdity of the message. The epistemic questions come
next. The hypotheses raised by the message recipients may lead them to experience a threat to
either personal and/or social identity, and to wish to avoid resemblance between their own
attitudes and the attitudes expressed in the message (a contrast effect, in Sherif and Hovland’s,
The threat to the individuals’ identity should be seen as the key instigator to unfreezing
of the beliefs and attitudes by thoughtful reflection. This sense of threat may result, eventually,
in attitude change to avoid an unpleasant self-perception as extremists (Brown et al., 2008).
Unfreezing may first be manifested in actual open-mindedness and a search for new and
alternative information (Bar-Tal & Halperin, 2009; Kruglanski, 1989; Nasie, Bar-Tal, Pliskin,
Nahhas & Halperin, 2014; Saguy & Halperin, 2014). It may also be driven by epistemic
motivation of fear of invalidity, arising when individuals do not want to err or to reach wrong
conclusions, but wish to achieve valid and truthful knowledge (see Freund, Kruglanski &
Shpitzajzen, 1985; Kruglanski & Freund, 1983; Kruglanski & Webster, 1996). As presented,
individuals may unfreeze their beliefs and attitudes and moderate them, trying to move away
and to differentiate themselves from the nonsensical, farfetched or implausible message (Bem,
1972; Harmon-Jones & Mills, 1999; Sherif & Hovland, 1961). As we describe next, all four
variables play a mediating role. Nevertheless, we are aware that at present the majority of the
proposed model is more theoretical, as the outlined psychological process still has not been
fully empirically validated. Future studies will need to shed more light on this process.
5.4.1 Initial empirical evidence in support of the hypothesized mechanism
In the first stage, Hameiri et al. (2018) attempted to elucidate the identified
psychological mechanisms, focusing on the hypothesized role of the four variables that were
thought to serve as necessary conditions: specifically, the surprised reaction, general
disagreement with the paradoxical thinking messages, a perceived threat to the individuals’
identities, and unfreezing. Thus, we conducted two studies in the context of the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict. The first was a conceptual replication of the study conducted by Swann
and his colleagues (1988). Participants who held conflict-supporting beliefs observed in a
pretest, conducted a few weeks prior to the manipulation, were invited to the lab for an
interview. The interviews were introduced as if we wanted to better understand the views
expressed in the pretest questionnaire participants were requested to fill out. Participants were
then asked ten leading questions that were either paradoxical, encouraging them to respond
with statements that were consistent, but blatantly more extreme than their own conflict-
supporting beliefs (e.g., "Why do you think that the real and only goal the Palestinians have in
mind is to annihilate us, in a manner that transcends their basic needs such as food and
health?"); or inconsistent, encouraging participants to respond with statements that negated
their held beliefs (e.g., "Why do you think the real goal of the Palestinians is ultimately to live
with us in peace?").
These interviews were coded by two trained judges, blind to participants’ political
orientation and the research hypothesis, who rated the participants’ levels of surprise and
general disagreement. Hameiri et al. (2018) found that levels of surprise among participants in
the paradoxical condition were higher than those of participants in the inconsistent condition
and that this effect was not moderated by the participants’ political orientation. The researchers
also found, as expected, an interaction on general disagreement, such that while rightist
participants showed lower levels of disagreement with the questions they were asked in the
paradoxical thinking condition (that were consistent with their conflict-supporting beliefs),
they showed higher levels of disagreement in the inconsistent condition. Furthermore, also as
expected, rightist participants showed more unfreezing and openness to alternative information
in the paradoxical thinking condition, compared to the inconsistent condition. There were no
significant effects for the more centrist participants.
In the second study, Hameiri et al. (2018) aimed to add another layer to the
hypothesized mechanism and examined participants' sense of identity threat following
exposure to the paradoxical thinking messages. We also wanted to provide a comprehensive
account of the examined psychological mechanism. This study conceptually replicated the
study conducted by Hameiri, Porat et al. (2014), but this time we added a third, inconsistent,
condition. In the inconsistent condition, participants were presented with an inconsistent
campaign arguing that, contrary to what most Jewish-Israelis believe, Palestinians are credible
partners for peace (see Halperin & Bar-Tal, 2007). The results replicated and extended those
found in the previous study, indicating that the paradoxical thinking intervention was more
effective in promoting unfreezing and openness to alternative information with the rightist
participants, compared to both the inconsistent and the control conditions. Furthermore,
replicating the results from the previous study, the paradoxical thinking intervention (vs. the
inconsistent intervention) led the rightist participants to show more surprise and less
disagreement with the message, as it was consistent, or in essence pro-attitudinal, with the
message recipient’s held conflict-supporting beliefs. Importantly, the results also indicated that
participants in the paradoxical thinking condition sensed more threat to their identities
compared to those in the inconsistent and control conditions. These psychological mechanisms
mediated the effect of the paradoxical thinking intervention (compared to both inconsistent and
control conditions) on unfreezing and openness to alternative information (see Figure 7).
The results outlined above indicate that the paradoxical thinking intervention was
mostly effective with the more rightist participants in leading to more unfreezing, openness to
alternative information, and conciliatory attitudes in general. That is, the paradoxical thinking
messages that are consistent with the attitudes held by the participants, led to the deliberative
process and to a sense of identity threat. This instigated unfreezing and attitude moderation as
a reflection of the motivation to move away and hold an attitude that is different from the one
expressed in the message. Additionally, Hameiri et al. (2018) examined the delicate interplay
and possible inter-relations among identity threat, surprise, and general disagreement across
time only among the rightist participants. We were also able to examine how these processes
affect and are affected by participants' levels of unfreezing across time. This was examined
with a cross-lagged panel model, developed using structural equation modeling (SEM). We
found that, at first, identity threat led to more unfreezing, but then, the more participants
unfroze, the less it led to identity threat. General disagreement predicted lower levels of
unfreezing across time, and surprise did not predict unfreezing across time, but was positively
correlated with unfreezing measured at the same wave (see Figure 8). These results correspond
with the overall pattern of additional longitudinal analysis Hameiri et al. (2018) conducted
(provided in Hameiri et al., 2018, online supplementary materials), in which, most notably,
rightist participants in the paradoxical thinking condition showed a decrease in identity threat
across time, while at the same time, they showed an increase in unfreezing.
Using a somewhat different operationalization, Peled, Dado, and Hameiri (2017) aimed
to examine whether indeed, as hypothesized above, paradoxical thinking manipulations lead
individuals to question the epistemic authorities on which they relied when they formed their
views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Modeled after Swann et al. (1988) and Hameiri
et al.’s (2018) adaptation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jewish-Israeli participants were
asked to respond to several questionnaires pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
including their degree of conflict-related attitude strength and moral convictions (Skitka et al.,
2005), as well as assessment of their reliance on epistemic authorities (Raviv, Bar-Tal, Raviv
& Abin, 1993). They then received bogus feedback that was ostensibly based on their responses
and comparison with the responses of previous participants who had taken part in the survey.
This bogus feedback was either paradoxical, i.e., that they hold conflict-related attitudes very
strongly, and that in fact they are considered to be fanatics and radicals, resembling other
members of radical groups (from both the left and right of the political spectrum). Finally, as
part of the evaluation, they were asked to answer a series of ten questions that supposedly
assessed their degree of radicalism (e.g., "When called upon, I will be ready to sacrifice my
life and/or my family members' lives to protect my views"). Importantly, the ratings for these
questions were already made, or ostensibly predicted, for the participants, based on previous
participants who had received the same feedback, such that all ratings were between 7 and 10,
on a 10-point scale ranging from 1 = Completely disagree to 10 = Agree completely.
Participants in the control condition received bogus feedback indicating that they resemble the
norm in Israel, and the ratings the researchers supposedly predicted for them ranged from 1 to
Replicating previous findings, participants in the paradoxical thinking condition (vs.
the control condition) were more surprised and sensed more threat to their identities. Not
surprisingly, it also led participants to show more disagreement with the bogus feedback.
Unlike the research outlined above, the paradoxical thinking condition was compared to a
control rather than to a condition that was based on the inconsistency-based approach, which
might account for this finding. The analysis also showed that the paradoxical thinking
manipulation led to more unfreezing, compared to the control condition. Finally, Peled et al.
(2017) found that there was an interaction between the time of measurement and the condition
(see Figure 9), such that participants in the paradoxical thinking condition showed a significant
decrease across time in their reliance on epistemic authorities; while for participants in the
control condition, the level of reliance on epistemic authorities remained constant across time.
It should be noted that, apart from identifying an additional part of the psychological
mechanism underlying the unfreezing process following a paradoxical thinking intervention,
this study also showed that such interventions can be effective with participants holding
different political views, in the context of an intractable conflict, and it really depends on what
is being targeted by the intervention.
In sum, the studies outlined above show that the suggested psychological mediating
mechanisms appear saliently as part of the paradoxical thinking psychological process. The
results indicate that paradoxical thinking messages lead to a sense of surprise, low levels of
general disagreement, and a sense of identity threat, compared with interventions that are based
on providing inconsistent information. Future research should determine the order and
causality of the psychological mechanisms. Moreover, the outlined research also showed that
surprise, general disagreement and identity threat led to unfreezing of conflict-supporting
beliefs and to reduced reliance on epistemic authorities.
5.4.2 Ramifications of the paradigm
As noted above, we believe that one of the reasons that the paradoxical thinking
paradigm works is because paradoxical thinking messages are consistent with the held attitudes
despite their extreme content (e.g., Sherif & Hovland, 1961). The value of the attitude reflected
in paradoxical thinking messages does not lead to high levels of disagreement, and as a
consequence, it does not provoke strong psychological defenses. This aspect was examined in
a study by Hameiri, Idan, Nabet, Bar-Tal and Halperin (2020). The study also examined
whether paradoxical thinking messages can be so blatantly extreme that they will lead to strong
disagreement and psychological defenses, rejected automatically, without deliberation. This
will render the messages less effective in moderating message recipients’ beliefs and attitudes.
Participants who tended to disagree with an opinion editorial that argued that the National
Health Insurance Law in Israel should be applied to African refugees in Israel (see Hameiri et
al., 2017) were sampled to participate in the present study. They were asked to read a second
opinion editorial that was ostensibly written by a rightist Knesset member as a response to the
original editorial. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions that differed
in the extremity and absurdity of the message. All texts had the same underlying message,
consistent with their own views, that Israel should not grant free health care to the refugees,
but rather make an effort to expel them from Israel. The difference between the conditions was
in the way the text was written, such that the first condition, i.e., Text 1, was moderate, Texts
2 and 3 were increasingly more extreme, and Text 4 was very extreme. The materials were
pilot tested and found to vary in the degree to which they were perceived as extreme and absurd.
Results generally replicated previous studies, in that the more the texts were extreme,
the more they surprised participants. We also found some indications that the more the texts
were extreme, the more participants sensed a threat to their identities, particularly among
participants who were high morally convicted (high ego-involvement, in Sherif and Hovland’s,
1961, terminology). Importantly, Text 4, with its outrageous linguistic extremity, rendered the
text so outlandish (at least for some of the participants) that, even though it was consistent with
the participants’ views, they immediately dismissed it and processed it in a fast and automatic
manner. This was manifested in high levels of disagreement with the opinion editorial,
compared to all other conditions, assessed in questionnaires and in content analysis of
comments written by the participants to respond the editorial writer. In contrast, Text 3, which
was less extreme, was considered consistent with the participants’ attitude, and while it was
also eventually rejected, it still evoked the deliberative cognitive process described earlier, as
was found in other studies.
Furthermore, Hameiri et al. (2020) found a significant interaction between the
manipulation and (immigration-related) moral convictions on unfreezing (see Figure 10).
Interestingly, this analysis generally indicated that, for the low morally convicted (low ego-
involved) participants, it was Text 1, the most moderate condition, that, to some extent, led to
more unfreezing. At the same time, as hypothesized, for the high morally convicted (high ego-
involved) participants it was Text 3, the extreme, but not very extreme, condition that led to
the highest levels of unfreezing. To summarize, it seems that for the low morally convicted
participants, the text had to be only slightly exaggerated or amplified in order to lead to more
unfreezing. While for the high morally convicted participants, the text had to be substantially
more extreme, to obtain these effects. When the text was very extreme it led to disagreement
and defensive reactions regardless of participants’ levels of moral conviction.
We have argued above that paradoxical thinking messages also raise epistemic
questions, such as who else shares the same beliefs, attitudes, or conclusions raised in the
messages. (Individuals from my group? From a different group? Are these individuals/groups
a positive or negative frame of reference?) Individuals may conclude that this social
comparison threatens their identities, as it identifies them as extremists, similar to extremists
from their reference group. This, in turn, could motivate them to distance themselves from this
threat. Trachtingot, Sborovsky, and Hameiri (2017) aimed to examine this process. Religious
and rightist Jewish-Israeli participants, all identified as religious Zionists, read an extremely
incendiary text against the LGBT community in Israel which in one condition was presented
as a direct quote by one of the leading religious Zionist rabbis in Israel, uttered as part of his
weekly lessons. In the second condition, it was added to this description that the rabbi was also
a known follower of Rabbi Meir Kahana, an extremely radical rightist religious leader who
propagated ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.
Results indicated that when the rabbi was identified as a follower of Rabbi Kahana,
compared to the ambiguous condition, participants distanced themselves from religious
Zionism (a Zionist stream which characterized both the rabbi and the participants). This was
manifested in expressing less pride in their affiliation with religious Zionism and in showing
less identification with this group. Affiliation was assessed by asking the participants to choose
one of seven pairs of circles with different degrees of overlap, ranging from 1 = complete
overlap to 7 = full separation, where one circle in each pair represented the self and the other
represented “Religious Zionism” (see Hameiri & Nadler, 2017). Participants in the "Rabbi
Rabbi Meir Kahana was elected to the Knesset in the 1984 elections after an aggressive campaign. In 1988, he
was disqualified from running for the Knesset as it was determined that his agenda was racist. In 1990, he was
assassinated by an Al-Qaeda assassin after giving a speech in Manhattan.
Kahana" condition also showed more positive attitudes toward the LGBT community (Kite &
Deaux, 1986), and lower levels of moral conviction regarding these attitudes.
Relatedly, Knab, Hameiri, and Steffens (2019) recently examined a similar line of
reasoning in the context of attitudes toward refugees in Germany. Specifically, Knab et al.
sampled German participants, who affiliate themselves with the bigger center-right political
party in Germany, the Christian Democratic/Social Union of Germany, or CDU/CSU. Then
participants were exposed to a mock article that included an interview with a politician who
was described as either a member of the CDU/CSU, or a member of a far-right political party,
Alternative for Germany, or AfD. In both conditions, the article participants read was identical
and included negative views regarding refugees, based on the materials developed by Knab
and Steffens (2020). These included, for example, statements by the politician that refugees
only come to Germany to rob German citizens, and that there would soon be mosques
everywhere. Similar to the results outlined above of the study conducted by Trachtingot et al.
(2017), when the extreme message was conveyed by a member of the far-right political party,
the AfD, participants sensed more threat to their identities, which was also reflected in them
showing less identification with CDU/CSU following the manipulation. Participants also
showed more openness to information regarding refugees and their current state in Germany,
and supported more pro-refugee policies.
As a final piece of evidence, a recent study provides initial indications that the
paradoxical thinking approach not only facilitates unfreezing that is directly related to the
targeted issue (e.g., intergroup conflict, attitudes toward refugees and asylum seekers), but that
it can also lead to a complete mindset shift. Specifically, Knab, Winter and Steffens (2020)
conducted a study in the context of attitudes toward refugees among a general population
sample of Germans. They found that, compared to an attitude-inconsistent and neutral control
conditions, a paradoxical thinking leading questions intervention (Knab & Steffens, 2020; see
also Hameiri et al., 2018; Swann et al., 1988) led participants to use broader categories in an
unrelated categorization task (Rosch, 1975), which is an indicator of cognitive flexibility (e.g.,
Rietzschel, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2007). Importantly, these effects were more pronounced the
more participants were rightists, thus replicating previous effects in other contexts we reviewed
above (e.g., Hameiri et al., 2016, 2018). Although these findings are preliminary, they suggest
that the absurdity and surprised reaction that leads to more in depth deliberative processing
might have a broader cognitive effect—a mindset shift—than on the issue at stake. Additional
research should examine this possibility further.
In these additional studies, specific components of the hypothesized conceptual
framework were examined. First, it was found that paradoxical thinking messages had to hit a
"sweet spot" to be effective, and that this was dependent on the degree of extremism of the
message, as well as the message recipients' characteristics. Furthermore, first indications were
found for the social comparisons that take place as part of the paradoxical thinking process.
These initial studies suggest that these social comparisons take place when the extreme
message is conveyed by an extreme source, who is a member of a group that reflects badly on
the message recipient (i.e., follower of Rabbi Meir Kahana, or a member of the German far-
right party, AfD), while the source also shares a common identity with the message recipient
(i.e., religious Zionists, or German rightists). Finally, these studies provided initial indications
that the paradoxical thinking interventions lead to a mindset shift, i.e., enhanced cognitive
Nevertheless, the reviewed research sparks additional important questions, which call
for further research in order to fully understand the practical and ethical ramifications and
limitations of the paradoxical thinking conceptual framework. First, future research should
examine systematically what happens when the paradoxical thinking messages do not hit the
‘sweet spot’ in that they are not extreme enough. The research conducted thus far on the
paradoxical thinking conceptual framework has shown consistent effects on the more extreme
(e.g., hawkish, morally convicted) participants (e.g., Hameiri et al., 2016, 2018, 2020). At the
same time, the effects on the more moderate individuals varied, and at least in one case the
paradoxical thinking intervention had a deleterious effect among these participants (Hameiri et
al., 2016). One possible explanation for this effect is that the paradoxical thinking messages
were less relevant for the more moderate individuals (perhaps falling in their latitude of non-
commitment, in social judgment theory terminology; Sherif & Hovland, 1961), and thus they
did not process the messages thoroughly, as opposed to the more extreme participants. Such
superficial processing might have led, at least for some of, these individuals to understand the
messages in the literal sense, rather than paradoxically. Because paradoxical thinking messages
are by definition an extreme and exaggerated version of the message recipients’ beliefs and
attitudes, literal understanding of the messages might have in fact only bolstered these held
beliefs and attitudes. Understanding these messages literally can give message recipients the
erroneous impression that their views are held by others, and thus are more normative. This is
an important avenue for future research.
Furthermore, the research reviewed above was almost exclusively conducted among
members of high-power groups (e.g., Jewish-Israelis, Germans). This raises two important
possible limitations that should be addressed in future research. First, to extend the external
validity of the conceptual framework, it is pivotal to examine whether the paradoxical thinking
intervention is effective among low-power groups in contexts of intergroup conflicts or
relations. Previous research established that power plays a pivotal role in the effectiveness of
well-known and thoroughly researched interventions (e.g., Bruneau & Saxe, 2012; Saguy,
Tausch, Dovidio, & Pratto, 2009). Thus, a future study might test, for example, whether a
paradoxical thinking intervention among low-power group members might reduce legitimacy
appraisals that play an important role in accepting and even sometimes supporting extreme
versions of violence and inequality in intergroup contexts (Jost & Major, 2001). Second,
ethically speaking, it is also important to examine how paradoxical thinking interventions
affect the adversarial outgroup (which, in most cases, is also a low-power group) that is being
negatively portrayed in an extreme and exaggerated manner in the intervention (see Vollhardt
& Twali, 2016). Given that, in some cases, the messages exaggerate held negative beliefs and
attitudes regarding the outgroup, such exaggeration might portray the outgroup extremely
negatively and even include blatantly hostile, racist, or chauvinistic sentiments (see e.g.,
Hameiri et al., 2018, 2020; Knab & Steffens, 2020; Swann et al., 1988). We believe that it is
crucial to examine these effects in order to fully understand the potential side effects of an
application of a large scale real-world paradoxical thinking intervention.
As mentioned above, an important aspect of the paradoxical thinking definition is that
the messages are nonjudgmental and leave the message source’s intentions and stance on the
issue ambiguous. Furthermore, in the research that was conducted thus far, the source was
either unknown, or completely nonjudgmental (e.g., Hameiri et al., 2016, 2018; Hameiri, Porat
et al., 2014) or fabricated (e.g., Hameiri et al., 2020; Knab et al., 2020). Thus, future research
should first and foremost examine the effects of the message source on the effectiveness of
paradoxical thinking interventions systematically. Some preliminary anecdotal evidence
suggests that maintaining the source unknown and nonjudgmental might not be as crucial as
hypothesized. For example, after participants went through the leading question intervention
in Hameiri et al. (2018, Study 1), we interviewed them and asked whether they were aware of
the goal of the intervention and the interviewer’s personal stance on the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. Several participants responded that at some point they realized what the goal of the
intervention was, but that they still sensed a threat to their identity (see also Knab & Steffens,
2020). These findings are only suggestive, and as reviewed above there were some cases in
which the research indicated that the source does shape the effectiveness of the paradoxical
thinking interventions (e.g., Knab et al., 2019; Trachtingot et al., 2017). However, in these
cases there were only ostensible sources, and not the actual sources of the messages (i.e., the
researchers). Additionally, there is quite a substantive body of research that shows that people
resist persuasive appeals from outgroups (e.g., Cohen, 2003; Mackie, Worth, & Asuncion,
1990; Maoz, Ward, Katz, & Ross, 2002), which highlights the necessity of additional research.
Relatedly, it is important to note that, in the studies presented, the paradoxical thinking
messages were perceived as genuine expressions of views. We argue that their perception by
the recipients as manipulative, and/or cynical and/or ridiculous may cause the whole process
to fail. We argue that perceiving the paradoxical thinking messages as candid and sincere is a
necessary condition for their effectiveness. It is crucial that the paradoxical message will not
be perceived as intending to ridicule the recipients or to manipulate them, or as being designed
to change they beliefs and attitudes. Such attribution and understanding by the recipients may
lead to automatic rejection of the message (see Frankl, 1975; Miller & Rollnick, 2002; but see
Farrelly & Brandsma, 1974). These important questions should be examined in future research.
If indeed future research indicates that the source has to remain ambiguous for effective
paradoxical thinking interventions, this raises important ethical considerations that should be
taken into account—especially when designing large scale real-world paradoxical thinking
interventions. Such interventions would have to be based, at least to some degree, on deception
in order for the interventions to be effective. As mentioned above, members of societies that
are immersed in intractable conflicts tend to resist attitude-inconsistent information (e.g., Bar-
Tal & Halperin, 2011; Hameiri, Bar-Tal et al., 2014). Thus, some sort of deception might be
necessary if we want to appeal to those who are the most extreme and hold the most entrenched
conflict-supporting beliefs and attitudes. This can undoubtedly lead to positive outcomes, such
as promoting better intergroup relations and conflict resolution. Yet, some might argue that it
also bares similarities to highly criticized recent attempts of foreign governments to influence
elections in other countries, such as the U.S., using, for example, bots and fake social media
accounts (Broniatowski et al., 2018; Linvill, Boatwright, Grant, & Warren, 2019; Walter,
Ophir, & Jamieson, 2020). Furthermore, as with any persuasion approach, there is also the
concern that individuals with nefarious intentions will use the paradoxical thinking conceptual
framework to promote hatred, bigotry, political discord, and so on (see Erceg et al., 2018).
In sum, we argue that there are important considerations, practical and ethical, that
should be taken into account when designing and implementing paradoxical thinking
intervention, particularly in the field. Some of these considerations, such as the deleterious
effects of missing the ‘sweet spot’ can be addressed with rigorous pilot testing (Hameiri et al.,
2020). Other considerations necessitate additional research in order to fully understand them.
Importantly, we would like to emphasize that while there are potential detrimental effects to
the use of paradoxical thinking interventions, we think that these should not discourage
researchers and practitioners from studying and utilizing this paradigm; on the contrary. We
believe that conducting responsible and ethical research in order to develop a complete
understanding of the paradoxical thinking conceptual framework, with its positive and negative
consequences, will only make it a more useful and effective approach for future endeavors.
In the present chapter, we introduced a new conception to attitude change based on the
classic debating technique of reductio ad absurdum (Rescher, 2005) and on the social judgment
theory (Sherif & Hovland, 1961). It suggests that when individuals with extreme positions are
exposed to messages that are consistent with the direction of their beliefs and attitudes but: (a)
the messages appear to be exaggerated or even absurd, and (b) the individuals process these
messages deliberately, they may moderate their held beliefs and attitudes. This approach,
which we termed paradoxical thinking, is in contrast to the often-used traditional social
psychological method of presenting messages that provide valid and enlightening information,
but that contradict the beliefs and attitudes held by the individual. The theories of inconsistency
provide one of the well-established epistemic bases for this approach (e.g., Abelson et al.,
1968). Here, we suggest a different (somewhat opposite) approach that has been found to be
especially successful with individuals who are well anchored in their attitudes, hold them as
central, with great confidence, conviction, and involvement.
At present, a number of studies performed in various settings with different populations
have validated the approach. In the reviewed studies, it was found that when individuals, who
were extremists in their attitudes, received a paradoxical thinking message that was consistent
with their position, but was expressed in an exaggerated, amplified, or even an absurd manner,
their attitudes were moderated. Most of these findings were obtained in the very difficult
context of intractable conflict, in which individuals acquire their conflict-supporting beliefs
and attitudes at a very early age and these are often reinforced and maintained by socialization
agents, societal institutions, cultural products, leaders and mass media (Bar-Tal, 2013). It may
be argued that this context is one of the most discouraging for attitude change, as we have seen
in the cases of Cyprus, Rwanda, Turkey, Sri Lanka or the Middle East. People tend to adhere
to their conflict supporting beliefs and attitudes and reject contradictory information (Bar-Tal
& Halperin, 2011). In contrast, the results of the reviewed studies that were conducted in the
context of an intractable conflict, show successful attitude change with extreme individuals.
We suggest that the reason paradoxical thinking has an effect on attitude change is
rooted in the combination of (1) a strategy that renders it hard to produce sound counter-
arguments; (2) a strategy that makes an effort to avoid resistance; and (3) a strategy that
instigates a deliberative reasoning process that raises epistemic questions and prevents
automatic thinking. This leads the individuals themselves to question the validity of their
beliefs and attitudes, engage in the longer process of cognitive reflection, and realize that
perhaps these attitudes are nonsensical and farfetched. Such reasoning may elicit unfreezing,
openness to alternative information, and eventually cause a change in these beliefs and
Trying to unravel the process that results in attitude moderation, four mediating
variables have been investigated: surprise, disagreement with the message, threat to identity,
and unfreezing. In our and others’ research there were indications that they all are part of the
psychological process. We argue that surprise is the primary emotional reaction to the exposure
of the paradoxical thinking message and is responsible for instigating the deliberative, effortful,
and reflective process. This process begins with epistemic questions that a person asks
him/herself and leads to feelings of threat to personal and/or social identity. Threat to identity
is, in our view, a key mechanism, responsible for the motivation to eliminate it. Identity is a
central component of the self, and individuals strive to achieve and maintain positive identity
(Brewer, 1991; Simon, 2004; Tajfel, 1978; Turner, 1999; Woodward, 2002). Individuals do
not want to be considered as holding senseless, implausible and absurd beliefs and attitudes,
and therefore feel the need to liberate themselves from the threatening feeling by moderating
their beliefs and attitudes, away from the views expressed in the paradoxical thinking message.
Individuals also do not want to be associated with a group or with a source of information
which holds senseless, farfetched and absurd beliefs and attitudes. Being motivated by fear of
invalidity, these conclusions are responsible for the unfreezing of the held beliefs and attitudes,
reflected in openness and readiness to change them (see Bar-Tal & Halperin, 2009; Kruglanski,
This delineated conception offers a new approach to attitude change that overcomes
some salient limitations of other approaches, especially the use of attitude-inconsistent
messages that shed new light on reality. It suggests a way to sidestep resistance to attitude-
inconsistent messages. This resistance may have different sources, such as various defense
mechanisms, heuristic thinking or motivational biases. Once this resistance is overcome, the
deliberative process may begin. This deliberative process is crucial in processing the
information and ultimately accepting the need to moderate beliefs and attitudes. Admittedly,
at this point we do not have definitive understanding of whether individuals are aware of this
process and its results, and this should be further investigated.
There are still many issues for future investigation, some of which we discussed above,
and we see the present endeavor as only the beginning of a long research journey. For example,
further investigation of the deliberative process is needed to establish its sequence and identify
various conditional factors. We hope that the present chapter will promote the journey by
presenting a comprehensive account of the paradoxical thinking conceptual framework, and
the empirical findings that corroborate it. These finding, we argue, establish the existence of
the paradoxical thinking approach within the field of attitude change. Nevertheless, it is
important to note that the paradoxical thinking approach should not be seen as a decisive
method for the attitude change, but rather as an addition to the arsenal of attitude change
approaches and methods. Each of these has their strengths and weaknesses and their
effectiveness depends on different conditions, characteristics of the message targets, and the
context in which they are tested.
We realize that an important advantage of this approach is that it does reduce defensive
reactions and automatic rejection. We believe that this advantage is very promising in
developing new interventions approaches. At present, our team has engaged in two directions
of developing new interventions based in this advantage. The first one suggests that raising
individuals’ awareness that their well-anchored attitudes are based on unconscious, biased,
selective, and distortive cognitive and motivational thinking, leads to unfreezing. Three studies
by Nasie, Bar-Tal, Pliskin, Nahhas, and Halperin (2014) showed that raising awareness of the
naïve realism as prevalent psychological bias leads to greater openness to alternative
information, including increased perceived legitimacy and understanding of the adversary’s
conflict-related narrative. The second one, called informative process model (IPM), being in
the development now, proposes that attitude change can also occur by informing individuals
about the socio-psychological processes through which they form and maintain their beliefs
and attitudes in the context of intractable conflict. The model based on the theory of culture of
conflict proposed by Bar-Tal (2013) demonstrated already its effectiveness in two studies (see
Bar-Tal & Hameiri, in press). Individuals who were exposed to the IPM videos (vs. control
condition) showed more understanding of the socio-psychological processes that lead to the
development of conflict-supporting narratives in contexts of prolonged and violent conflicts,
and more support for conflict resolution policies.
In general, we argue that the paradoxical thinking approach is not only relevant to the
present efforts to extend scientific knowledge about attitude change in the domain of intractable
conflict. Rather, it is also relevant to practical attempts to change what are arguably destructive
beliefs and attitudes that individuals and groups hold with confidence about various issues.
These issues focus on how individuals, groups and even societies think, feel and behave with
regard to racism, global warming, continuation of bloody conflicts, exploitation of groups,
harassment of women and more (see Hameiri, Bar-Tal, & Halperin, 2019). The present
approach provides a conceptual basis for developing real life interventions that can be applied
to key leaders and public campaigns as some of the reviewed studies demonstrated.
We detected the roots of the paradoxical thinking model in the clinical practices (e.g.,
Allen et al., 1997; Farrelly & Brandsma, 1974; Frankl, 1975; Haley, 1973; Miller & Rollnick,
2002; Riebel, 1984; Watzlawick et al., 1974). A number of clinical psychological approaches
argue that, in the paradoxical treatment, a sense of surprise is the driving motivator, when the
patient is put off balance. This can be done either blatantly, and even in a manner that is
intended to shock the person (e.g., Farrelly & Brandsma, 1974), or more subtly in order to lead
to less resistance and psychological defenses, but eventually leading to the same realization
that the current situation is perhaps senseless (e.g., Frankl, 1975; Watzlawick et al., 1974). Yet
other treatments put greater emphasis on the paradoxical aspect, suggesting that when patients
are confronted with the extreme version of themselves, they formulate counter-arguments
against their own behavior and beliefs, which eventually lead to the realization that these are
nonsensical or absurd. This was termed by MI theoreticians as psychological judo (e.g., Miller
& Rollnick, 2002; see also Frankl, 1975). The clinical psychological approaches share the main
underlying thrust of not opposing patients’ behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, but rather using
consistent but amplified, exaggerated, or extreme, information to lead to change, even with the
most resistant clinical psychological patients. However, each of the clinical theories
emphasizes a different aspect in this process, or argues that what is driving the desired change
is different (Riebel, 1984). Our developed conception and validated line of research moved the
paradoxical thinking model from the micro clinical setting to the macro societal reality. We
demonstrated that the developed approach of attitude change can be applied to various political,
societal, economic, environmental and other areas that are of great importance for improving
the life human beings.
In sum, the main theoretical contribution of the present endeavor is to the literature on
attitude change, by integrating different psychological literatures, clinical and social, to
develop a single, comprehensive, and testable attitude change conceptual framework. This
novel paradoxical thinking conceptual framework highlights a process of attitude change that
has not received much attention. Indeed, until the work we reviewed here and that was recently
published, it seemed that the social psychological literature had neglected this process, and
focused mostly on attitude change using either attitude-inconsistent information, or techniques
that bypass or derail resistance (e.g., Cialdini, 2009; Knowles & Linn, 2004). However, the
principle that is developed in the present research asserts that one can use this resistance, or
these counter-arguments as the force that can drive the change—a principle that has been
known for thousands of years in philosophy (Rescher, 2005), and several decades in clinical
psychology (e.g., Frankl, 1975; Watzlawick et al., 1974)—but neither broadly developed nor
thoroughly examined empirically. We are confident that our contribution provides a new
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Figure 1. Perception of Palestinian responsibility for the continuation of the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict as a function of condition (paradoxical thinking vs. neutral control) and
political orientation. Reprinted from Hameiri, Porat et al. (2014). Note: Error bars represent
Figure 2. Proportion of participants’ voting among the seven largest Israeli political parties
(not including sectoral parties) arranged with the most dovish party on the left, and the most
hawkish party on the right, as a function of experimental condition (paradoxical thinking
intervention vs. neutral control). Reprinted from Hameiri, Porat et al. (2014).
Figure 3. Adherence to conflict-supporting beliefs as a function of time of measurement,
political orientation, and condition (paradoxical thinking vs. neutral control). Reprinted from
Hameiri et al. (2016). Note: Error bars represent standard errors.
Figure 4. Support for aggressive policies as a function of political orientation and condition
(paradoxical thinking vs. neutral control). Reprinted from Hameiri et al. (2016). Note: Error
bars represent standard errors.
Figure 5. Support for conciliatory policies as a function of political orientation and condition
(paradoxical thinking vs. neutral control). Reprinted from Hameiri et al. (2016). Note: Error
bars represent standard errors.
Figure 6. Processing paradoxical thinking messages.
Figure 7. Moderated serial mediation model of openness to alternative information. The
model shows the paradoxical thinking vs. attitude-inconsistent conditions comparison, and its
interactive effect with political orientation. Unstandardized coefficients are reported. The
effects of political orientation, covariates, and non-significant paths are not shown; * p < .05.
Reprinted from Hameiri et al. (2018).
Figure 8. Cross-lagged model of rightist participants. Panel model showing autoregressive (in
grey) and cross-lagged (in black) paths for rightist participants (n = 308). Unstandardized
coefficients are reported; only significant paths are shown. The model controls for the
manipulation, age, and gender. † p < .10; * p < .05. Reprinted from Hameiri et al., (2018).
Figure 9. Reliance on epistemic authorities as a function of time of measurement and
condition (paradoxical thinking vs. moderate control). Error bars represent standard errors.
Figure 10. Unfreezing as a function of moral conviction and extremity of persuasive message
(Text 1 = moderate, Text 2 = somewhat extreme, Text 3 = extreme, Text 4 = very extreme).
Error bars represent standard errors. Reprinted from Hameiri et al., (2020).