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Perspective mistaking: Accurately understanding the mind of another requires getting perspective, not taking perspective

By Prof. Tal Eyal
Location Bloomfield 527
Academic Program: BS
Wednesday 01 April 2020, 11:30 - 12:30

Perspective taking is widely presumed to increase interpersonal understanding, but very few experiments have actually tested this hypothesis. Those that do yield inconsistent results, or they confound accuracy with egocentrism. I will present the findings from around 30 experiments we conducted to test whether being instructed to adopt another person’s perspective increases interpersonal insight. These experiments included a wide range of accuracy tests such as predicting another person’s emotions from facial expressions and body postures, predicting fake versus genuine smiles, predicting a spouse’s activity preferences and consumer attitudes, and predicting an ideological opponent's attitudes. Although a large majority of participants believed that perspective taking would systematically increase accuracy on these tasks, we failed to find any consistent evidence that it actually did so. If anything, perspective taking tended to decrease accuracy. Perspective taking reduced egocentric biases, but the information used in its place was not systematically more accurate. Several experiments confirmed that getting another person’s perspective directly, through conversation, increased accuracy but that perspective taking alone did not. Increasing understanding requires gaining new information rather than utilizing existing knowledge differently.