Publication Date

April 2017

Advisor(s)

Kathleen Schmidt

Major

Psychology

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

Previous research has found that perspective taking can improve implicit and explicit attitudes towards stigmatized groups (e.g., Batson et al., 1997). Perspective taking produces empathy (Batson, Early, & Salvarani, 2008) which occurs when a person shares the emotional experiences of another (De Vignemont & Singer, 2006). Positive empathy involves engaging with another’s positive internal state. Because positive empathy may activate positive emotions regarding stigmatized group members, interventions designed to produce positive empathy may be even more effective in changing attitudes than those based on negative empathy or general perspective taking. We conducted two studies to explore the potential of positive empathy to produce implicit and explicit attitude change-- towards people beset with mental illness (Study 1) and towards Black people (Study 2). No significant effect of positive empathy on improved attitudes was found in either study. No significant improvement in attitudes compared to the control was found for any perspective taking condition, except for a significant effect of condition in Study 2 on implicit attitudes after controlling for variation in attitudes due to race and the interactions between race and condition. Study 2 also revealed that among White participants, anti-Black bias was significantly higher for the positive empathy condition compared to the standard perspective taking condition. Positive empathy, while linked to prosocial behavior and social functioning in other domains, may not be an effective means of producing attitude change.

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