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Self-distancing improves interpersonal perceptions and behavior by decreasing medial prefrontal cortex activity during the provision of criticism.

  • Author(s): Leitner, Jordan B
  • Ayduk, Ozlem
  • Mendoza-Denton, Rodolfo
  • Magerman, Adam
  • Amey, Rachel
  • Kross, Ethan
  • Forbes, Chad E
  • et al.
Abstract

Previous research suggests that people show increased self-referential processing when they provide criticism to others, and that this self-referential processing can have negative effects on interpersonal perceptions and behavior. The current research hypothesized that adopting a self-distanced perspective (i.e. thinking about a situation from a non-first person point of view), as compared with a typical self-immersed perspective (i.e. thinking about a situation from a first-person point of view), would reduce self-referential processing during the provision of criticism, and in turn improve interpersonal perceptions and behavior. We tested this hypothesis in an interracial context since research suggests that self-referential processing plays a role in damaging interracial relations. White participants prepared for mentorship from a self-immersed or self-distanced perspective. They then conveyed negative and positive evaluations to a Black mentee while electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded. Source analysis revealed that priming a self-distanced (vs self-immersed) perspective predicted decreased activity in regions linked to self-referential processing (medial prefrontal cortex; MPFC) when providing negative evaluations. This decreased MPFC activity during negative evaluations, in turn, predicted verbal feedback that was perceived to be more positive, warm and helpful. Results suggest that self-distancing can improve interpersonal perceptions and behavior by decreasing self-referential processing during the provision of criticism.

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