This BBC piece suggests it will tell us the best way to win an argument. The trick is to exploit a cognitive feature/bug called the illusion of explanatory depth, in which we assume we understand concepts far better than we really do. We believe we grasp complexities because of their associations with simpler systems, but when asked to explain how things work in terms of cause and effect, our ignorance is revealed. The BBC article doesn't really walk you through how to crush your opponent's logic, but suggests how you can use this cognitive error to weaken their position. Two experimental groups were asked to advocate for a position they held:
One group was asked to give their opinion and then provide reasons for why they held that view. This group got the opportunity to put their side of the issue, in the same way anyone in an argument or debate has a chance to argue their case.
Those in the second group… were asked to explain how the policy they were advocating would work. They were asked to trace, step by step, from start to finish, the causal path from the policy to the effects it was supposed to have.
The results were clear. People who provided reasons remained as convinced of their positions as they had been before the experiment. Those who were asked to provide explanations softened their views, and reported a correspondingly larger drop in how they rated their understanding of the issues.
When I read this, it reminded me of recent research on the widening belief gap in political views between Americans. Not only is there less common ground between people of different political affiliations, but animosity for opposing views has grown substantially. On one hand, I suppose this means more people are being consistent in their beliefs. On the other, it bodes ill for compromise, for shared goals, for civil discourse and mutual respect.
Maybe, before we practice how to win our next lunchtime debate or humiliate some misguided stranger online, we should acknowledge our own cognitive deficits and remember how to lose an argument. Pick something you believe in, a policy change you know will make the world a better place, and advocate for it. Don't worry about why you believe it - focus on how it's going to work. It's probably going to be tougher than you think. There might be room for alternative strategies, the wisdom of experience, even the cautious allowance of room for differing opinions of the matter.