Perspective taking, stereotyping, prejudice, and behavioral explanations: When, why, and how perceivers take on the attitudes of a target
Laurent, Sean Michael
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Laurent, Sean Michael
A growing body of research has focused on how perspective taking leads people to perceive themselves as "merging" with the target of perspective taking, in terms of how they cognitively represent themselves and the target. In turn, this merging has been shown to facilitate social coordination between perceivers and targets and results in reduced stereotyping of the target's group. Using this past research as a starting point, this dissertation asks a related but new question: Does perspective taking lead perceivers to take on the attitudes of the target of perspective taking, even when these attitudes are socially reprehensible? Specifically, this dissertation tested whether taking the perspective of a racist target leads perspective takers to show greater racism and stereotyping. In Study I, 102 participants took the perspective of racist male target (or wrote about a day in his life without taking his perspective or about a day in their own lives), learning about his attitudes from visual information alone. No main effect for perspective taking was found. However, for perspective takers only, greater self-target merging predicted higher explicit racism scores. Also among perspective takers, greater internal motivation to respond without prejudice also ironically led to greater implicit stereotyping. In Study 2, 101 participants took the perspective of a female target who was generally likable but had subtly racist attitudes. Once again, no main effect of perspective taking was found, but for perspective takers, greater external motivation to respond without prejudice led to higher explicit racism scores. In Study 3, 101 participants took the perspective of the same target used in Study 1, but were given information about the genesis of the target's attitudes. The combination of perspective taking and information led to higher explicit racism scores, and this effect was mediated by self-target merging (and not by greater positive regard for the target). Under many circumstances, perspective takers appear to reject taking on a racist target's socially undesirable attitudes, adopting them only when they have been given some reason for why the target holds those attitudes. In addition, motivation to respond without prejudice may lead ironically to greater prejudiced responses.