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Open Access Publications from the University of California

When the Shoe Fits : : Perspective Taking and the Limits of Empathy

  • Author(s): Tuller, Hannah M.
  • et al.

The purpose of this dissertation is to investigate the flexibility of perspective taking. Perspective-taking manipulations have traditionally been used to evoke emotions and change attitudes in situations where participants have no reason not to take on the feelings and motivations of the target other. The experiments here present new findings concerning the largely unanswered question as to whether perspectives can usefully be adopted in situations where participants already hold opinions, including strong ones, on the measure of interest. The results of two experiments in Chapter 1 suggest that perspective-taking effects are difficult to achieve in personal and emotionally-relevant conflict situations as well as in hypothetical conflict scenarios. Chapter 2 explored methods of overcoming participants' inability or unwillingness to engage in perspective taking by providing motivations for them to do so. Both increasing accountability and portraying perspective- taking ability as an indicator of competence increased self-reports of perspective taking, but only the accountability motivation successfully increased empathic concern and forgiveness for targets. Chapter 3 tested the effectiveness of a perspective-taking approach to decreasing attitude entrenchment. This approach was found to be effective in changing participants' views on controversial issues such as weight discrimination and abortion under certain conditions. These results suggest that it is possible to reduce attitude entrenchment by encouraging individuals to think about the perspective of another with an opposing view as long as there is accountability and real contact. Collectively, this research highlights the difficulty of overcoming egocentric biases in order to successfully to take the perspective of another person when this perspective conflicts with one's own and suggests several promising approaches that enable individuals to do so

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