Seeing the other side
Perspective taking and the moderation of extremity
Hannah M. Tuller, Christopher J. Bryan, Gail D. Heyman, Nicholas J.S. Christenfeld ⁎
University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA
•A novel form of perspective taking decreased attitude polarization among partisans.
•The approach worked even on strong attitudes about highly polarizing issues.
•Depolarization depended on accountability to the target of perspective taking.
•Depolarization also depended on personal contact with the perspective-taking target.
Received 10 September 2014
Revised 10 February 2015
Available online 20 February 2015
Recognizing the reasonableness of others' positions is important for conﬂict reduction, but is notoriously hard.
We tested a perspective-taking approach to decreasing attitude entrenchment. Participants were held account-
able in a task in which they wrote about a controversial issue from the perspective of a partner with an opposing
viewpoint. This approach was effective at changing views on controversial issues—inStudy 1 on weight discrim-
ination, an issue participants were unlikely to have thought much about, and in Study 2 on abortion, where be-
liefs tend to be more deeply held. Studies 3 and 4 showed this change only took place under conditions where
participants met the individual with an opposing view in person, and where that individual would see the
perspective-taking effort. These results suggest that it is possible to reduce attitude entrenchment by encourag-
ing people to think about the opposing perspective of another, as long as there is real contact and accountability.
© 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Immeasurable harm has resulted from people's inability to appreci-
ate that the views of those with whom they disagree can be reasonable
and coherent. This inability is apparent in disagreements ranging from
marital disputes to union negotiations to international conﬂicts.
One particularly pernicious instance of this failure is in the arena of
American politics. Polarization has resulted in widespread legislative
deadlock (Viser, 2013; Weisman, 2013; Wilson, 2014) and even
complete shutdowns of the government (Steinhauer, 2013). Extreme
political polarization also has negative consequences for civil society,
includinga souring of public discourse (Jamieson & Falk, 2000), reduced
trust in government, and increasing political alienation (Layman,
Carsey, & Horowitz, 2006).
Although there are numerous contributors to attitude polarization,
including sociological (Bishop, 2008) and individual cognitive factors
(Fernbach, Rogers, Fox, & Sloman, 2013), we suggest that a major
cause is the failure of perspective taking—partisans become so
immersed in their own ways of thinking about issues that they lose
touch with other points of view. This might seem to imply that simply
exposing partisans to their opponents' point of view could ameliorate
polarization. Previous theory and research, however, suggests that this
approach is unlikely to be effective. Rather, people often dismiss the
perspectives of people who disagree with them as foolish or biased. In
part, this is because people fail to appreciate the extent to which their
own opinion about an issue is dependent on their particular construal
of that issue—their subjective understanding of what the relevant facts
and background are—and that an alternative construal of the issue
could lead a reasonable person to have a different opinion from theirs
(Lord, Ross, & Lepper, 1979; Ross, Greene, & House, 1977; Ross &
Nisbett, 1991; Ross & Ward, 1995, 1996; Vallone, Ross, & Lepper,
1985). This failure to see opponents' positions as both potentially sin-
cere and potentially reasonable can further entrench adversaries' posi-
tions (Ross & Ward, 1995, 1996).
To counter this, we propose a perspective-taking approach to help
people move beyond facile dismissal of opposing viewpoints. We
suggest that a variant of a perspective-taking exercise—attempting to
articulate an individual opponent's argument in a way that opponent
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 59 (2015) 18–23
⁎Corresponding author at: University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr.,
Mail Code 0109, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (N.J.S. Christenfeld).
0022-1031/© 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jesp
is expected to endorse as accurate—might prevent people from ignoring
or glossing over the other side's valid arguments and push people to
think through the set of underlying beliefs that could lead someone to
a different opinion from theirs. In effect, it prompts people to try to
construe the issue as the opponent would. This approach is not unrelat-
ed to a version of the speaker/listener technique for couples' empathy
training (Markman, Floyd, Stanley, & Lewis, 1986), where one member
of the couple paraphrases the content and feelings expressed by the
other and the other then rates, on a bull's eye target, how well they
feel their message was understood (Long, Angera, Carter, Nakamoto, &
There is some evidence that taking into account the perspective of a
known individual with divergent views can lead to shifts in political
views. Tetlock, Skitka, and Boettger (1989) showed that when people
know they will argue a position on a controversial issue with someone
who disagrees with them before they write about their own position,
they move their views toward those of the other person, compared to
a situation in which they write without knowing the views of their
opponent. In the present research, like Tetlock et al. (1989), we examine
the effects of exposure to individuals who hold opposing views, but we
examine the effects of explicit attempts to take the perspective of the
other person, and to write from the perspective of one's opponent
rather than writing from one's own perspective.
Although previous research has demonstratedthe power of perspec-
tive taking to inﬂuence the views and behaviors of people who start
from a neutral or third-party stance (e.g.,Batson et al., 1997; Galinsky,
Maddux, Gilin, & White, 2008; Regan & Totten, 1975; Shih, Wang,
Bucher, & Stotzer, 2009; Todd, Bodenhausen, Richeson, & Galinksy,
2011; Toi & Batson, 1982), little is known about its potential in cases
of conﬂicting viewpoints. Research in negotiation game contexts sug-
gests that perspective taking can help overcome impasses in situations
where individuals can achieve self-interested beneﬁtfromdoingso
(Epley, Caruso, & Bazerman, 2006; Galinsky et al., 2008; Galinsky &
Mussweiler, 2001; Gilin, Maddux, Carpenter, & Galinsky, 2013;
Trotschel, Huffmeier, Loschelder, Schwartz, & Gollwitzer, 2011).
In the present research we ask whether perspective taking might be
effective in inﬂuencing real world beliefs where no easily discoverable
mutuallybeneﬁcial solution to the conﬂict exists and whereparticipants
do not standto gain any personal advantage by taking the perspectiveo f
—or making a concession to—an opponent. As an initial test of this
idea, we explored whether our perspective-taking manipulation
could moderate views on an issue about which opinions were likely
to be strong but not long-standing or deeply entrenched: weight
In this and all subsequent studies, any participant who failed one of
our attention checks or who failed to follow perspective-taking instruc-
tions was excluded from analysis. The stopping rule for data collection
for all studies was to collect as many participants as possible before
the end of the academic quarter. In only Study 1, data were analyzed
after the ﬁrst 10 participants to determine that the expected polariza-
tion of attitudes was occurring. The explicit, a priori plan was to discon-
tinue data collection and adjust the procedure if the data from the ﬁrst
10 participants were inconsistent with hypotheses and to continue to
collect data for the remainder of the quarter if the data from those
ﬁrst 10 participants were directionally consistent with the hypothesis,
regardless of the signiﬁcance level. For additional detailsabout attention
checks and other exclusion criteria, and for study results without exclu-
sions, please see the online Supplementary material.
Participants were 85 undergraduates (67 female; M
= 20.0 years;
= 1.6 years; 62% Asian, 18% White, 14%Latino, 6% Other) at a large
public university who completed the experiment for course credit. In
this study, 16 additional participants were excluded because they either
failed to follow instructions properly or did not pass theattention check
(see online Supplementary material for additional details).
Participants came into the lab in pairs and, before beginning the
session, experimenters veriﬁed that each pair had never met before.
To help the pairs become superﬁcially acquainted, they spent 10 min
engaged in a task based on the control condition in Aron, Melinat,
Aron, Vallone, and Bator's (1997) “fast friends”protocol. Participants
took turns asking each other questions designed to promote superﬁcial
disclosures (e.g.,“When was the last time you walked for more than an
hour?”). Participants were then moved to separate rooms and asked to
ﬁll out a form entitled “Small Talk”in which they provided additional
superﬁcial information about themselves (e.g., favorite color), ostensi-
bly to share with their partner. This form was actually used as a ﬁller
task to hide the true purpose of the study.
Participants were next led to believe that their partner held the
opposing view to theirs on an important social issue. A form entitled
“Issue for Discussion”was ﬁrst used to determine the view of each
participant. Participants read the following scenario:
Tori L. is a 32-year-old San Diego resident. She was not hired for a
teaching job because the school she applied to has a policy against
hiring teachers who are obese.
Participants were asked whether it should be legal for the school to
have a policy against hiring obese teachers, providing a rating on a scale
from 1 (deﬁnitely not) to 6 (deﬁnitely yes). Participants also rated how
strongly they held their position from 1 (not strongly at all) to 6
Participants were then given what they were told was their partner's
printed responses to this question, along with responses from the
“Small Talk”ﬁller task.
In fact, the responses to both forms were standardized and pre-
printed (though we did simulate the sound of a laser printer at the
appropriate time to increase believability). All participants received
the same printout for the ﬁller task. On the issues for discussion task,
they always received feedback indicating that their partner held the
viewpoint at the opposite end of the continuum from their own. In
almost all cases (82 of 85) the participant's view was in opposition to
the weight discrimination and participants accordingly were informed
that the partner had responded with a 6 (that the policy deﬁnitely
should be legal). The 3 participants who favored weight discrimination
were informed that their partners had selected a 1 (that the policy
should deﬁnitely not be legal).
Participants were then randomly assigned to complete one of two
In the partner-perspective condition, participants were asked to artic-
ulate, in writing, the point of view of their partner (i.e., the opposite
perspective to their own). The instructions for the task were de-
signed to promote a sense of accountability by leading participants
to believe that their partner would be reading what they wrote
and also that the two would be seeing each other again.
In the own-perspective condition, participants were asked to articu-
late, in writing, their own perspective on the weight discrimination
issue. Participants in this condition were told that they would be
seeing their partners again, but there was no indication that their
partners would be reading what they wrote.
In this and allsubsequent studies,the effects remain essentially unchanged when ex-
cluded subjects are included within the analyses.
19H.M. Tuller etal. / Journal ofExperimental Social Psychology 59 (2015) 18–23
Participants in both conditions were next asked to report their
attitudes about the relevant instance of weight discrimination again,
on the same scale they used initially. Our dependent variable of central
interest was whether participants would change their position on the
weight discrimination issue in the direction of their partner's opposing
Participants' subjective sense that they had taken the perspective of
their partner was assessed using four items, averaged into a composite
score, from a scale developed by Exline, Baumeister, Zell, Kraft, and
Witvliet (2008). They were asked the extent to which they could
“understand why [their] partner holds this position”;“see the issue
from his/her perspective”;“see his/her position as making sense;”and
“think of valid reasons why he/she holds this position.”Ratings were
from 1, indicating that they did not agree at all, to 7, indicating that
they agreed completely.
Results and discussion
To address attitude change—our central theoretical question—we
examined the difference between pre- and post-manipulation scores
on the weight discrimination issue. We coded change as positive if it
was in the direction of the partner's position, negative if it moved
away from the partner's position, and zero if it did not change.
Results revealed a signiﬁcant effect of condition, t(83) = 2.24, p= .027,
d= .47, with participants who wrote from their partner's perspective
(M= .61, SD = 1.14) showing more attitude change toward the views
of their partners than those who wrote from their own perspective
(M= .18, SD = .54).
In order to tell whether the difference was due to people in the
partner-perspective condition softening their position, or those in the
own-perspective condition hardening theirs, we examined the change
separately within each condition. A one-sample t-test in the partner-
perspective condition showed signiﬁcantly greater than zero softening
of the position, t(40) = 3.43, p= .0014, d= .68. The control condition
did show a small, but statistically signiﬁcant change in the direction of
moderation as well, t(43) = 2.23, p= .03, d= .2. This shift in the posi-
tion of the control groupis consistent with the accountability ﬁndings of
Tetlock et al. (1989), which showed that knowledge of the audience's
viewpoint leads to more cognitive processing and potential empathic
efforts as one dwells on one's own position. But, of course, the central
ﬁnding of Study 1 is that accountable perspective taking results in
signiﬁcantly more moderation of one's position than simply knowing
one's audience has an opposing view.
There was no interaction between position strength and condition
on attitude change, F(1,81) = 1.00, p= .32. This suggests that the effect
was not limited only to people who initially held weak positions. In fact,
there was no relationship overall between strength of the initial
position and the degree of attitude change, r(83) = .01, p= .93.
The perspective-taking indexdemonstrated high internal consisten-
cy, with a Cronbach's alpha of .95. Despite the signiﬁcant effect of the
perspective-taking manipulation on actual issue positions, there was
no signiﬁcant condition effect on participants' subjective sense of
having taken the perspective of their partners, t(83) = .28, p=.78,
d= .06. That is, participants in both conditions reported, on average,
feeling that they had done a reasonably good job of taking their
partner's perspective (M= 4.42, SD = 1.93, and M=4.31,SD =1.67
in the partner perspective and own perspective conditions, respectively
on the seven-point scale). Although there was no main effect of condi-
tion on this measure, self-reported perspective taking did show some
relationship to the magnitude of attitude change within condition:
r(39) = .41, p= .007 for the perspective-taking condition, and
r(42) = .31, p= .04 for the own-perspective condition. One possible
(albeit speculative) explanation for the lack of main effect despite
these changes within conditions is that participants effectively normal-
ized their reports for their condition. That is, they may have calibrated
their ratings on the subjective scale to what they intuited could be
expected given the exercise they had completed.
In Study 1, we found, as predicted, that asking participants to
articulate a political opponent's point of view in detail, and with
the expectation that the accuracy of this rendering would be judged
by that opponent, caused participants to moderate their positions on
a contentious issue.
In Study 2 we investigated whether the effect of our manipulation
might extend to an issue about which participants were expected to
have longer-standing, and more deeply entrenched views and for
which they were expected to be more familiar with arguments on
both sides: legalized abortion (Jelen & Wilcox, 2003).
Participants were 94 undergraduates (68 female; M
= 20.9 years;
= 1.8 years; 62% Asian, 16% Latino, 13% White, 9% Other) who
completed the experiment for course credit. Six additional participants
were excluded from analysis because they either failed to follow
instructions properly or did not pass the attention check (see online
Supplementary material for additional details).
The procedure was identical to that of Study 1 except that the weight
discrimination scenario was replaced with the following:
Tori M., a 16-year-old high school student from SanDiego, was raped
by her mother's boyfriend. She discovered that she is 11-weeks
pregnant and she does not want to have the baby.
Participants were asked whether, given Tori's circumstances, it
should be legal for her to have an abortion. They responded from 1
(deﬁnitely not) to 4 (deﬁnitely yes). Again, almost all participants (89
of 94) took positions on one side of the issue—in this case, in favor of
legalized abortion. Those participants were informed that their partner
strongly opposed legalized abortion in this case, while the 5 participants
who opposed legal abortion were given the opposite indication. As in
Study 1 participants reported their position twice, once before the
perspective-taking manipulation and once after, in order to assess any
change. Subjective perspective taking was assessed as in Study 1.
Results and discussion
As the central reason for moving from the weight discrimination
issue to theabortion issue was totest the effect of the perspective taking
manipulation on more strongly-held issue positions, we ﬁrst examined
whether participants indeed reported feeling more strongly about the
abortion issue than they had about the weight discrimination issue in
Study 1. Results indicate that this was indeed the case, t(177) = 2.38,
p= .02, d= .35 (M=3.1,SD =.82vs. M = 2.8, SD = .84 for abortion
and weight discrimination respectively).
As predicted, and conceptually replicating the ﬁnding in Study 1,
participants were more likely to shift their attitudes about legalized
abortion in the direction of their opponent's position in the partner-
perspective condition than in the own-perspective condition, t(92) =
3.12, p=.002,d=.62(M=.36,SD =.61,vs. M =.06,SD =.25).As
was the case with the issue of weight discrimination, the directional
change in abortion attitudes in the partner-perspective condition was
signiﬁcantly greater than zero, t(46) = 4.1, p= .0002, d= .75. Also as
in the ﬁrst study, there was a slight (but this time only marginally signif-
icant) change in the same direction in the control condition t(46) =
1.77, p=.08,d= .13.
20 H.M. Tuller etal. / Journal ofExperimental Social Psychology 59 (2015) 18–23
Despite the strength of the attitudes in the present study, there
was only a small inverse relationship between the strength of the
initial attitude and the amount of attitude change r(92) = −.22,
p= .04, but this effect did not interact with perspective-taking con-
dition, F(1, 90) = .77, p= .38. That is, again, we found no evidence
that the effect of the perspective-taking manipulation was limited
to participants with weaker attitudes about the issue.
Finally, as in Study 1, we did not ﬁnd a signiﬁcant difference in self-
reported perspective taking between the partner-perspective condition
(M=5.65,SD = 1.11) and the own-perspective condition (M=5.18,
SD = 1.48), t(92) = 1.76, p=.08,d= .36, although this time the differ-
ence approached signiﬁcance. (The scale again showed high internal
consistency: Cronbach's alpha = .91.) In this study,there was no signif-
icant relationship between the reported levels of perspective taking and
the actual degree to which participants shifted viewpoints withincondi-
tion: r(45) = .21, p= .15 for the perspective-taking condition, and
r(45) = .15, p= .33 for the own-perspective condition. We will return
to the interpretation of the relationship of these self-reports to the
degree of attitude change in the General discussion.
Across two studies, inducing people to articulate the perspective of
someone who disagrees with them about a controversial issue made
them more amenable to compromise. Although Study 2 was not strictly
an exact replication of Study 1, it was very close—the only substantive
change being the issue under consideration. The results in these two
studies were remarkably consistent.
We have suggested that the moderation of partisans' positions on
the two issues was a result of taking the perspective of a person with
the opposite opinion with whom they had established at least a super-
ﬁcial personal connection and to whom they were held accountable for
the accuracy of their perspective-taking effort. Next we brieﬂy report
the results of two additional studies that test the assumption that at
least a brief acquaintance with the person is necessary, and that it is
also necessary to be directly accountable to that person for the accuracy
of the rendering of the opposing perspective. The two studies also help
to rule out plausible alternative explanations for the observed effect. In
Study 3, we examine whether the accounta bility element is necessary or
whether any effort, with some incentive to do a good job, would be
In this experiment, we sought to create a situation where the same
perspective taking would occur, but instead of telling participants that
this information would be shown to their opponents, we told them
that it would be evaluated by experts. Participants were exposed to
the same sort of difference of opinions as in Studies 1 and 2,and
engaged in essentially the same perspective-taking exercise, but in
this study, their accountability for producing a high-quality and accu-
rate articulation of their putative opponent's perspective was to abstract
The experiment used the same basic method as Study 2, but with the
followingtwist: participants were run alone instead of inpairs and were
asked to articulate either their own perspective or the perspective of a
putative past participant (“Subject A059”) with the opposite opinion
to theirs on the abortion issue. Participants completed an analogue of
the relationship-formation stage of the earlier studies in which they
were given the ostensible previous participant's answers to the discus-
sion questions that participants in the prior studies had taken turns
answering in person with their partners. Participants then ﬁlled out
the same “Small Talk”and “Issue for Discussion”forms as in the previ-
ous experiments, and the responses to these questions they received
from Subject A059 were the same as the ones provided in Study 2 as
the partner's responses.
Participants were 101 undergraduates (73 females; M
20.8 years; SD
= 3.1 years; 56% Asian, 23% White, 14% Latino, 7%
Other) from the same population used in Studies 1 and 2. Fifteen
additional participants were excluded because they either failed to
follow instructions properly or did not pass the attention check (see
online Supplementary material for additional details).
Participants were randomly assigned either to an own-perspective
condition that mimicked the one employed in Study 2 or to a skill-
based perspective-taking condition, which was designed to motivate
participants to write thoughtful and fair arguments by stressing the
importance of perspective taking as a life skill:
Perspective taking is the ability to inhabit another person's mind, to
make predictions about that person's thoughts, motivations, and
feelings, and to come up with a realistic representation of his or
her internal world. This is an important element of successful social
interaction. Perspective taking is a skill and some people are better at
it than others. A great deal of past research has found that people
who are better at perspective taking tend to become more successful
Participants in this condition were askedto articulate Subject A059's
point of view about the legalized abortion issue and were told that
independent raters would assess the quality of their response in terms
of this crucial skill.
In contrast to the ﬁndings of the ﬁrst two studies, here this
perspective-taking condition produced no change in participants' issue
positions compared to the own-perspective condition,t(99) = −.91,
p= .363, d=.19(M= .08, SD =.48,vs. M =0,SD = .35). These results
make it clear that, in the absence of a sense of accountability to the
person whose perspective one is being asked to take, engaging in
perspective taking is unlikely to be effective in producing attitude
change, even when there is some incentive to do well.
In Study 4, we test a potential boundary condition: whether the ac-
countability must be to a person participants have met. Accountability
to an opponent one has never met might be expected to weaken any
perspective-taking effects because people might feel less compelled by
the imagined perspective of a person who is only an abstraction to
To test whether the perspective-taking exercise would be effective
at moderating participants' issue positions even if they have never
met the opponent whose position they took, we recruited 103 partici-
pants (81 females; M
= 20.6 years; SD
= 3.0 years; 54% Asian,
21% White, 15% Latino, 10% Other) from the same population as the
previous studies. In this follow-up study, 7 additional participants
were excluded from analysis because they either failed to follow
instructions properly or did not pass the attention check (see online
Supplementary material for additional details).
Participants were randomly assigned to the disclosure-based
perspective-taking condition or to the own-perspective condition. In the
disclosure-based perspective-taking condition participants were asked
to articulate Subject A059's point of view about the legalized abortion
issue, and were led to believe that their response would be sent to
Subject A059 for a rating of its accuracy, whichwould in turn be emailed
to the participant. As in previous studies, in the own-perspective condi-
tion, participants articulated their own point of view about legalized
21H.M. Tuller etal. / Journal ofExperimental Social Psychology 59 (2015) 18–23
Results conﬁrmed the importance of meeting the opponent whose
perspective one is being asked to articulate. There was no difference
between the two conditions in terms of attitude change about legalized
abortion, t(101) = .08, p=.932,d= .02 (M=.15,SD =.5,vs. M =.16,
SD = .58). Thus, taking the perspective of an abstract other was not
enough to produce the depolarizing effect, even when participants
were made to believe that others would review and evaluate the
accuracy of what they had written.
Studies 3 and 4 suggest that taking another's perspective without
having met that person is not effective in moderating political opinions,
even when there is an incentive to do a good job. To further probe for
any differences in participants' motivation to do a good job between
our follow-up treatments (the skill-based and the disclosure-based
perspective-taking conditions) and the partner-perspective-taking
condition in Study 2, we recruited 88 independent coders
= 1.7 years; 49% Asian, 20% White, 17% Latino,
14% Other) torate the quality of the written arguments in each of those
three conditions. Each participant rated 13 arguments chosen at ran-
dom from the combined pool of 152 perspective-taking arguments
from the 3 studies. To measure the quality of each argument, partici-
pants were asked to indicate how satisﬁed the perspective-taking target
would be with the way his/her side of the story was described. We
found no evidence of any difference in the quality of the arguments
articulated comparing the follow-up incentive condition and the
follow-up abstract-other condition to the original condition from
Study 2 where actual attitude change was observed, F(1,149) = 0.62
pN.4. Thus, it appears that the effecton participants' own political opin-
ions of taking their partner's opposing perspective on the relevant issue
is not driven simply by motivation to write a coherent, or plausible,
account of that person's perspective. Rather, the ability to vividly imag-
ine a speciﬁc other person whom one has met and whose perspective
one is articulating appears to afford the perspective-taking experience
a degree of emotional resonance that it otherwise lacks.
In two studies, we found that it was possibleto decrease polarization
of even strongly-held attitudes about important real-world political
issues by instructing people to consider theperspective of a speciﬁcper-
son with an opposing viewpoint, whom they had met, and by holding
them accountable to this person for an accurate rendering of their
In Study 1 we found evidence of decreased political polarization on
the issue of weight discrimination, an issue selected because partici-
pants were not expected to hold long-entrenched beliefs about it.
Participants writing from the perspective of the opponent they had
met, and under the impression that he or she would be judging the
success of this effort, softened their attitudes and did so independently
of how strongly they held their initial position.
In Study 2, we explored whether this manipulation could also depo-
larize positions on an issue about which attitudes are notoriously
emotion-laden and deeply entrenched: abortion. We again found that
participants moderated their views in response to the perspective-
taking exercise, suggesting the potential usefulness of such a technique
in easing even highly contentious political disagreements.
It is notable that our perspective-taking exercise had an effect on par-
tisans' issue positions even in the absence of a signiﬁcant effect on their
self-reported success in understanding their opponent's perspective.
Although participants' ratings of their understanding of the opposing
perspective did not differ numerically, the assessments may well have
different bases in the two conditions. Participants' assessments of their
perspective-taking success in the own-perspective condition may have
been inﬂuenced more by overconﬁdence than those of participants in
the other-perspective condition whose experience attempting to articu-
late their opponent's perspective may have helped to calibrate them
better (Lichtenstein & Fischhoff, 1980). That is, taking the perspective
of an opponent could have dual effects that would be expected to
inﬂuence self-reported success at perspective taking in opposite
directions: it immerses one in the opponent's perspective but it also
gives one ﬁrst-hand experience with how difﬁcult it is to take the
perspective of a person one disagrees with. Our ﬁrst study did suggest
that degree of attitude change was associated with reports of per-
spective taking in both the experimental and control condition.
However, the lack of any such main effects, along with the lack of
main effect of reports of perspective taking, suggest that awareness
of taking another's perspective—at least insofar as it is in evidence
in people's self-reports of their success at it—is not crucial for the
effectiveness of our manipulation.
It does not seem that our perspective-taking exercise was effective
simply because, in theprocess of arguing for the other side, participants
partially convinced themselves without really considering their
opponent's perspective. Our follow-up studies, Studies 3 and 4,showed
no evidence of depolarization when participants had to make argu-
ments for the other side without being held accountable to the speciﬁc
individual whose perspective they thought they were taking. It also
does not seem that the effect is driven simply by any incentive to do a
good job at the task given the ineffectiveness of the incentive in Study
4at producing any opinion change.
We have seen the powerful effects of our perspective-taking ap-
proach on attitude depolarization, even with such a highly contentious
issue as legalized abortion, but there are, as always, limits on the conclu-
sions possible. Because our assessment was done shortly after the
perspective taking exercise, our data do not address how long the atti-
tude depolarization might last. This is certainly worthy of further
study. However, even if the attitude softening is relatively short-lived,
there are many instances, such as contractual or even hostage situa-
tions, when meaningful decisions are based on the state immediately
Crisp and Turner (2009) have shown that just imagining a member
of an outgroup can decrease negative attitudes about that group. How-
ever, our data suggest that writing from the perspective of an unmet
other, even with accountability, does not have the same effect as real
interaction. Future work could usefully explore just what aspects of an
interaction are critical, and whether changing attitudes about a group
operate via a different mechanism than moderating differences of opin-
ion between individuals. It will also be important to examine how the
results would compare if individuals' political afﬁliations were made
salient at the outset (Crawford, 2014) and when individuals hold prior
hostile views of their opponents or have unpleasant interactions with
Taken together the results of our research provide evidence of the
potential to reduce attitude entrenchment by encouraging individuals
to take the perspective of their opponents. Our work goes beyond pre-
vious ﬁndings suggesting the potential value of contact with others
with conﬂicting views (Tetlock et al., 1989). Our control groups show
that writing from one's own perspective, knowing the other person
holds the opposite view, is enough to create some slight attitude mod-
eration. But our experimental groups show that the effort to take the
perspective of a person who holds a very different view can create
signiﬁcantly more attitude change than just knowing about that view.
Additionally, our work suggests that the success of this approach may
depend on both personalization and accountability. Without these
factors, individuals seem to treat reasoning from another perspective
as merely a cognitive exercise. However, with these factors in place,
See online Supplementary material for exclusionsand data collection stopping rule.
22 H.M. Tuller etal. / Journal ofExperimental Social Psychology 59 (2015) 18–23
they appear to be able to do more than just go through the motions:
when people are held accountable to speciﬁc individuals they have
met, they may be more likely to vividly imagine how another person
could, in good faith, hold a view different from theirs and, as a result,
come to see that view as more reasonable than they had previously.
The need for accountability rather than just incentives, and for real
contact, rather than just knowledge of the other, has implications for
any effort to apply this ﬁnding. Such approaches may prove useful in a
wide range of interpersonal situations. Conﬂict mediators could ask
disputants to attempt to write from each other's perspectives and
then share these efforts.
For the issues that attract serious debate, from the equitable allot-
ment of chores to the legitimacy of international borders, it is rare that
people hold positions that are completely without merit. A technique
that encourages people to take seriously the viewpoint of another and
to recognize its value may help reduce the harm caused by conﬂict
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