Perspective taking and empathy: What does it mean to take another person’s perspective? We are interested in both cognitive outcomes of perspective taking as well as affective ones (for example, how perspective taking affects relationships). Most recently, we have been looking at how similarity of experience and motivation affect empathic accuracy (the ability to accurately infer another person’s thoughts). We have found that when people try to infer someone else’s thoughts, they integrate information from a variety of sources, including outside information (e.g., schemas and stereotypes). One interesting twist on this work has been to explore how fiction writers take their characters’ perspectives, which can be viewed as a special case of perspective taking, in which the perspective must be totally constructed, rather than simply “taken.”
Self-other overlap: When people are close to each other, or if they find themselves taking each other’s perspective, they start to feel “overlap” with each other – their fates feel more entwined, their representations of the self and the other merge, and thinking about one brings to mind the other. Although self-other overlap is often found in successful relationships, we have also found it interesting to explore in less prototypical relationships, including those with deities or abusive partners. Furthermore, a number of ways have been proposed to measure self-other overlap – but are they all measuring the same thing?
Feature matching in judgment and decision making: Another line of research investigates how people make decisions between options with shared and unique characteristics, specifically examining how people treat these two kinds of characteristics differently, and how this affects their comparisons. When people try to decide between two options that have both shared and unique characteristics, they match up the shared attributes and concentrate on the unique ones to make their choice. What happens when they are subsequently given a third option? People appear to cancel out the shared features in earlier options, and do not use them in making subsequent decisions. We have also explored decision contexts that may inhibit or prevent the use of feature matching as a judgment strategy, and whether feature matching is used in self/other comparisons.
Some Current Projects in the Lab
Context, disclosure, and empathic accuracy
Using stereotypes to infer other people’s thoughts
How gender, nonverbal sensitivity, and personality affect empathic accuracy
The self in social comparisons
Perceptions of environmentally related behaviors