One of the standard rhetorical forms we hear from some types of Christians (and wooey new agers too) is how they used to be such a serious unbeliever, a thoroughgoing skeptic, but they just couldn’t resist the truth (often “Truth”) any longer. A new study shows that this is very effective in convincing people of the validity of your claims:
Conveying this skepticism before telling an irrationally stupid story might make it more convincing, according to the results of a new Journal of Language and Social Psychology study authored by University of East London researcher Anna Stone. People are more likely to believe what you’re saying is actually attributable to the paranormal if you don’t sound like an ignorant simpleton at the beginning of the tale. “The declaration of initial scepticism suggests that the narrator behaves rationally in basing his or her beliefs on empirical evidence and so counters potential accusations of foolishness and gullibility or being swayed by too little evidence,” Stone explains in the paper. “The presentation of the evidence that converted the narrator within the account itself offers the audience an invitation to go on the same journey from scepticism to belief along with the narrator.”…
Stone designed a simple experiment to prove what had previously only been a vague qualitative assertion. Subjects read a description of either a precognitive dream (the narrator predicted and prevented a car accident) or a telepathic experience (the narrator thought “of an old friend Sally” and then learned about her hospitalization 30 minutes later) in three different conditions. In one, the narrator claimed to be skeptical of the paranormal before describing the event; in the second, the narrator said he or she didn’t have any interest at all; and in the third, the narrator admitted to being a vehement prior believer. Then, the subjects were asked a series of questions about whether they thought the event described really was paranormal, “just a coincidence,” or the product of narrator gullibility…The skeptical condition significantly increased the likelihood that subjects would characterize the event as causally paranormal, even though the majority of the subjects rightly attributed it to coincidence.
There’s a related phenomenon as well among evangelical Christians, which is to not only claim that you used to be a non-believer but that you were a horrible person as well. You were a gangbanger or a satanist and you ate babies and kicked old people, until you were saved, sanctified and washed clean by the blood of the lamb. These are effective rhetorical techniques. They may well be true some of the time, but they’re often highly exaggerated.