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The effect of perspective taking on communication to those in need

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Whirry-Achten, Angela
Lishner, David
MS, Psychology
Jan 2012
Social perception; Interpersonal communication; Empathy
The purpose of this study was to assess the effect of perspective taking on empathic communication styles. Previous research has shown that the experience of empathy can be manipulated by instructing participants to adopt one of three perspectives, either to remain objective while observing the target person, to imagine how the target feels (imagine other), or to imagine how they would feel to be the target (imagine self). Participants in this study adopted one of these perspectives while watching a recording of a target in need. The target was a female describing a recent break-up with her boyfriend. Participants were led to believe that the target was also a participant in the study, with the same target video used for every participant. Following the viewing, participants rated their emotional responses to the video and then recorded a response to the target?s communication. The recorded responses were then evaluated by judges who were blind to experimental condition to determine if perspective taking affected communication style. As predicted, participants in the imagine-other condition reported feeling more empathic concern than did those in the objective condition. Also as predicted, participants in the imagine-self condition reported feeling more personal distress than those in the objective group. Despite these differences in emotional reactions, the judges? ratings of participants? communications revealed no significant differences in communication style between conditions. The results suggest that although different forms of perspective taking create different emotional reactions to those in need, these reactions may not manifest in different communication styles when observers verbally communicate with the person in need. Limitations and implications of these findings are discussed.
A Thesis Proposal Submitted In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science Psychology
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