Behavioral and Brain Sciences2013-09-05 2:57 AM

The Case For and Against Perspective-Taking

Abstract How can recent findings indicating that perspective-taking fosters negative behavior and defensiveness be reconciled with ample evidence that perspective-taking can have beneficial effects on individuals’ evaluative and behavioral reactions to other people? I argue that perspective-taking tends to prompt positive reactions in contexts where the potential for evaluation by the target is low and where individuals thus focus their attention squarely on understanding the target when perspective-taking. In contrast, perspective-taking prompts more negative reactions in contexts where the potential for evaluation by the target is high and where individuals thus focus their attention back on themselves when perspective-taking. I further argue that the relevance of individuals' concerns about their social standing with others moderates perspective-taking effects because it determines which of two distinct forms of egocentrism arises. A beneficial form involves individuals projecting themselves onto the target, whereas a detrimental form involves individuals becoming preoccupied with the target's evaluation of them. I also maintain that perspective-taking is more likely to foster favorable treatment of targets when it is easy for individuals to identify what constitutes positive versus negative treatment. Because most experiments examining perspective-taking have been conducted in contexts involving low potential for evaluation and clear behavior response options, which may not be representative of the contexts in which individuals most often engage in perspective-taking in their everyday lives, negative effects might be more common than traditionally believed. I review the research literature and find general support for this conceptual framework. Apparent counter-examples and directions for future research are discussed.

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Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Behavioral and Brain Sciences is a peer-reviewed scientific journal of Open Peer Commentary established in 1978 by Stevan Harnad and published by Cambridge University Press. It is modeled on the journal Current Anthropology (which was established in 1959 by the University of Chicago anthropologist, Sol Tax).

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