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Group members often reason egocentrically, believing that they deserve more than their fair share of group resources. Leading people to consider other members’ thoughts and perspectives can reduce these egocentric (self-centered) judgments such that people claim that it is fair for them to take less; however, the consideration of others’ thoughts and perspectives actually increases egoistic (selfish) behavior such that people actually take more of available resources. A series of experiments demonstrates this pattern in competitive contexts in which considering others’ perspectives activates egoistic theories of their likely behavior, leading people to counter by behaving more egoistically themselves. This reactive egoism is attenuated in cooperative contexts. Discussion focuses on the implications of reactive egoism in social interaction and on strategies for alleviating its potentially deleterious effects.
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When Perspective Taking Increases Taking: Reactive Egoism
in Social Interaction
Nicholas Epley
University of Chicago Eugene M. Caruso
Harvard University
Max H. Bazerman
Harvard Business School
Group members often reason egocentrically, believing that they deserve more than their fair share of
group resources. Leading people to consider other members’ thoughts and perspectives can reduce these
egocentric (self-centered) judgments such that people claim that it is fair for them to take less; however,
the consideration of others’ thoughts and perspectives actually increases egoistic (selfish) behavior such
that people actually take more of available resources. A series of experiments demonstrates this pattern
in competitive contexts in which considering others’ perspectives activates egoistic theories of their
likely behavior, leading people to counter by behaving more egoistically themselves. This reactive
egoism is attenuated in cooperative contexts. Discussion focuses on the implications of reactive egoism
in social interaction and on strategies for alleviating its potentially deleterious effects.
Keywords: reactive egoism, egocentrism, perspective taking, negotiation, conflict
People in the midst of disagreements often fail to see “eye to
eye.” Plaintiffs consistently request larger damage awards than
defendants are willing to give. Environmentalists consistently de-
mand more extensive changes to industrial practices than industry
representatives believe are reasonable. And labor unions predict-
ably argue that management undervalues their efforts, whereas
management predictably argues that increasing salaries would
reduce profitability and hasten bankruptcy. In just one of many
recent examples, players from the National Hockey League were
“locked out” of play by team owners in the summer of 2004, and
the subsequent season was eventually canceled, at least in part,
because players rejected a proposed salary cap that they considered
to be patently unfair but that owners claimed was necessary to run
a sustainable business. Divergent interests can lead to divergent
perspectives, and failing to understand an opposing side’s perspec-
tive can lead to egocentric assessments of fairness and can create
interpersonal conflict (Babcock & Loewenstein, 1997; Bazerman
& Neale, 1982; Messick, 1995).
When such problems with psychological vision arise, a seem-
ingly simple and effective strategy for determining the optimal
solution would be to actively consider an opposing side’s perspec-
tive. Labor union representatives, for instance, would seem well
advised to consider management’s likely concerns before going to
the negotiating table. So too would environmentalists seem wise to
consider constraints faced by industry representatives in order to
propose changes that are likely to be implemented. And indeed,
reducing egocentric biases by considering another person’s per-
spective has been found to have a variety of beneficial effects in
social interaction. Considering others’ perspectives, for instance,
increases the likelihood of helping another person in need (Batson,
1994), reduces the use of stereotypes when forming impressions
(Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000), increases negotiation effective-
ness (Neale & Bazerman, 1983), and diminishes a variety of
problematic egocentric biases in judgment (Savitsky, Van Boven,
Epley, & Wight, 2005; Wade-Benzoni, Tenbrunsel, & Bazerman,
1996). It is therefore of little surprise that actively considering the
other side’s perspective is considered to be a critical component of
successful conflict resolution (Paese & Yonker, 2001).
In this article, however, we suggest that the consequences of
considering others’ perspectives in social interactions may be more
complicated than these positive results might suggest. Although
reducing an egocentric focus on one’s own concerns and interests
by considering others’ thoughts and perspectives may make an
optimal solution more readily accessible, we suggest it can ironi-
cally lead people to behave in an even less optimal fashion. The
reason involves the thoughts, attitudes, and likely behaviors that
are activated when people shift their focus from their own con-
cerns and interests to consider the concerns and interests of others.
In particular, considering others’ concerns and interests may high-
Nicholas Epley, Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago;
Eugene M. Caruso, Department of Psychology, Harvard University; Max
H. Bazerman, Harvard Business School, Harvard University.
This research was supported by Grant SES0241544 from the National
Science Foundation and by the James S. Kemper Foundation Faculty
Research Fund awarded to Nicholas Epley and by a Graduate Research
Fellowship from the National Science Foundation awarded to Eugene M.
Caruso. We thank Tara Abbatello, Kristin Boyd, Daniel Carroll, Dolly
Chugh, Leif Holtzman, Nick Josefowitz, Angela Kim, Adriana Luciano,
Celene Menschel, Sarah Murphy, Kristian Myrseth, Heather Omoregie,
Dobromir Rahnev, Aram Seo, Ashley Siler, Bree Tse, Bev Whelan, Erin
Rapien Whitchurch, and Joe Whitchurch for assistance conducting these
experiments.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Nicholas
Epley, University of Chicago, 5807 South Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL
60637. E-mail: epley@chicagogsb.edu
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association
2006, Vol. 91, No. 5, 872–889 0022-3514/06/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.91.5.872
872
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light self-interested motives in others’ perceptions or likely
behavior.
A person selling a house, for instance, who considers a buyer’s
perspective might now be more focused on a buyer’s interest in
obtaining a low selling price. Although this seller may now rec-
ognize that his or her house may be worth less than originally
thought, he or she may also now feel compelled to demand an even
higher selling price to balance out a presumably low offer from the
other side in order to obtain a fair offer. Or an oil executive who
considers environmentalists’ concerns may recognize the benefits
of making environmentally friendly changes but may actually be
even less willing to offer these changes in order to combat the
presumably extreme demands that the environmental lobby is
likely to make. Or team owners who try to predict the salary
demands of their players may concede that the athletes deserve a
pay increase but the owners may actually suggest a pay decrease to
counteract the exaggerated demands they come to expect from the
players’ union. We suggest in this article that reducing an egocen-
tric focus on one’s own concerns and interests by considering
others’ perspectives in social interaction may reduce egocentric
biases in judgment, but it may also lead to reactive egoism in
behavior (i.e., egoistic or self-serving behavior in reaction to the
presumably egoistic behavior of others).
Notice that our predictions about the consequences of perspec-
tive taking focus solely, at this point, on what psychologists
commonly refer to as cognitive perspective taking. Cognitive per-
spective taking involves intuiting, as accurately as possible, an-
other person’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, interests, or concerns
in a particular situation (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999; Davis, 1983;
Epley, Savitsky, & Gilovich, 2002; Mead, 1934; Savitsky, Epley,
& Gilovich, 2001; Stotland, 1969). Although very common in
daily life, this form of perspective taking is also very specific and
should not be confused with other meanings of the term such as
empathizing with another person’s distress (Batson, 1994), simu-
lating one’s own reactions in another person’s situation (imagine-
self perspective; Stotland, 1969; see also Galinsky & Moskowitz,
2000), or visually “seeing” a scene from another person’s perspec-
tive (Piaget, 1932/1965). Whether the predictions we make about
the consequences of cognitive perspective taking generalize to
these other forms of perspective taking is an issue we consider
further in the General Discussion.
Notice also that our predictions about the consequences of
perspective taking involve a critical interaction between judgment
and behavior. In particular, we predict that considering others’
perspectives should decrease egocentric or self-centered biases in
judgments of what is objectively fair but should increase egoistic
or self-interested behavior compared with those who remain more
egocentrically focused and do not consider others’ perspectives.
Homeowners who consider a buyer’s perspective may believe their
house is not worth as much as they would have thought but will
ask for more nonetheless. An oil executive may see the wisdom in
an environmentally friendly policy but may offer fewer environ-
mentally friendly changes. And a team owner may privately value
a star player’s skills more after taking the player’s perspective but
may offer a smaller salary at the negotiating table. Understanding
this interaction between judgment and behavior therefore requires
two separate explanations, one detailing why considering others’
perspectives should reduce egocentric biases in judgment and
another detailing why considering others’ perspectives should in-
crease egoism in behavior. We offer each of these explanations in
turn.
Egocentrism in Judgment
Some people occasionally report out-of-body experiences, but
life for most people is very much an in-body enterprise. People
perceive the world directly through their own sensory organs and
interpret those perceptions by using schemas and expectations that
are firmly planted in their own brains. This means that one’s own
unique perspective on the world is immediately and easily avail-
able, whereas others’ perspectives must be deliberately inferred.
Experience is faster and more reliable than inference, meaning that
a person’s egocentric perspective generally serves as a default in
judgment that must be deliberately corrected or adjusted when
necessary. Because such correction processes are notoriously in-
sufficient (Epley & Gilovich, 2004; Gilbert, 2002; Tversky &
Kahneman, 1974), many social judgments are egocentrically bi-
ased. For instance, people tend to overestimate the extent to which
others share their knowledge, preferences, and attitudes (Keysar &
Bly, 1995; Keysar, Ginzel, & Bazerman, 1995; Nickerson, 1999;
L. Ross, Greene, & House, 1977), overestimate the extent to which
others attend to their behavior and appearance (Gilovich, Medvec,
& Savitsky, 2000; Gilovich, Savitsky, & Medvec, 1998), and
overestimate the extent to which others’ impressions of them will
match their self-assessments (Epley et al., 2002; Kenny & De-
Paulo, 1993; Savitsky et al., 2001).
More relevant for the current research, people’s assessments of
fairness in social interactions tend to be egocentrically biased as
well (Babcock & Loewenstein, 1997; Paese & Yonker, 2001).
People tend to believe that they deserve more credit for collabo-
rative endeavors than is logically (and statistically) possible (Leary
& Forsyth, 1987; M. Ross & Sicoly, 1979) and that they also
deserve a larger share of available resources than others believe is
fair (Babcock & Loewenstein, 1997). In one study, for instance,
participants believed that they should be paid nearly $5 more, on
average, than their partner for identical work (Messick & Sentis,
1983). In another, plaintiffs in a mock court case believed it was
fair for them to receive approximately twice as much in damages,
on average, than defendants believed was fair (Loewenstein, Is-
sacharoff, Camerer, & Babcock, 1993). What is more, these par-
ticipants believed that their egocentric biases would be shared by
the trial judge as well (Babcock, Loewenstein, Issacharoff, &
Camerer, 1995; Loewenstein et al., 1993). These egocentric per-
ceptions of fairness can then create conflict between individuals
and groups. In the mock court case just described, the magnitude
of egocentric biases between plaintiffs and defendants signifi-
cantly predicted an impasse that required third-party adjudication.
Similar negative influences of egocentric biases have been re-
ported elsewhere (Thompson & Loewenstein, 1992; Wade-
Benzoni et al., 1996).
Such egocentric biases in fairness and resource allocation ap-
pear to arise from both motivational and cognitive sources. Moti-
vationally speaking, people are likely to seek evidence consis-
tent with preferred or self-interested outcomes and to evaluate
evidence inconsistent with these preferred outcomes more criti-
cally than evidence consistent with preferred outcomes (Dawson,
Gilovich, & Regan, 2002; Ditto & Lopez, 1992; Ditto, Scepansky,
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REACTIVE EGOISM
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Munro, Apanovitch, & Lockhart, 1998; Lord, Ross, & Lepper,
1979).
More relevant for the current research, however, are cognitive
mechanisms that render evidence supporting self-serving assess-
ments of fairness more readily accessible than evidence supporting
self-defeating assessments. People are more likely to notice and to
attend to their own contributions to group endeavors than to
others’ contributions, making a self-serving allocation of rewards
seem justifiable (M. Ross & Sicoly, 1979; Thompson & Kelly,
1981). So too are people likely to be more focused on their own
interests and concerns than on others’ interests and concerns,
leading them to notice and to attend to information that supports
their interests more than information that supports others’ interests
(Lord, Ross, & Lepper, 1979), to weight such supportive evidence
more heavily in judgment (Babcock et al., 1995; Messick & Sentis,
1979), and to recall more easily such supportive evidence in
memory (Thompson & Loewenstein, 1992). One reason people
believe it is fairer to satisfy their own interests than others’
interests is because they do not notice, attend to, or care about
others’ interests as much as their own. These results make it clear
why increasing the focus on others’ contributions and interests
may highlight information that an individual might have naturally
overlooked and might reduce self-serving allocations of responsi-
bility and judgments of fairness (Savitsky et al., 2005).
Reactive Egoism in Behavior
If failing to consider others’ perspectives in social interaction
creates egocentric biases and conflict, and if considering others’
perspectives can reduce egocentric biases that apparently create
such conflict, then it is more of a logical syllogism than an
empirical hypothesis that considering others’ perspectives should
reduce interpersonal conflict. Although this analysis is perfectly
logical, it is not perfectly psychological for three reasons.
First, people’s judgments need not match their behavior. People
eat Twinkies when they know they should not, spend money when
they know they should be saving, and go on vacations when they
know they should be working. In one of many empirical examples
of this divergence between attitudes and behavior, undergraduates
in one experiment universally expressed anger at the lack of
adequate student housing on campus, but only those personally
affected actually took action to fix the problem (Regan & Fazio,
1977). Similarly, knowing what is fair in a social interaction or
negotiation and behaving fairly are two very different things
(Batson, Kobrynowicz, Dinnerstein, Kampf, & Wilson, 1997; Bat-
son, Thompson, & Chen, 2002). Altering people’s egocentric
assessments of fairness does not therefore necessitate an analogous
change in behavior.
Second, much of social interaction is strategic, aimed at achiev-
ing some underlying goal. This is especially true in the competitive
contexts that lead to divergences in interests and create conflict
like those mentioned in the opening paragraph. Altering people’s
otherwise egocentric focus on their own concerns and interests
may make a purely egocentric allocation of resources, for instance,
seem unfair, but it is unlikely to alter the underlying interests and
concerns on which these egocentric perceptions were based. As a
result, behavior may be less likely to change in competitive or
strategic interactions than might perceptions of fairness, making a
disconnect between judgment and behavior especially likely in
these contexts.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, reducing egocentric bi-
ases in social interaction by shifting the focus to others’ perspec-
tives means that people’s behavior is now likely to be determined
in large part by what they see when they look into the mind of
those people. Several empirical findings suggest that such per-
ceptions are unlikely to be especially flattering or conducive to
cooperative behavior. Chief among them is that people tend to
believe they are fairer and more moral than are others (Allison,
Messick, & Goethals, 1989; Epley & Dunning, 2000; Messick,
Bloom, Boldizar, & Samuelson, 1985). Considering what another
person is likely to believe is a fair resolution to a dispute will
almost certainly highlight a resolution that appears anything but
fair.
But not only do people believe they are fairer than others in a
relative sense, research has suggested that people may believe that
others are patently unfair and self-interested in an absolute sense.
People tend to assume that others’ behavior is guided by their
self-interest with relatively little concern about fairness or justice
(Kramer, 1994), a belief that would not be especially problematic
except that it often exaggerates the impact of self-interest on
others’ attitudes and thoughts (Miller, 1999; Miller & Ratner,
1998). In one study, for instance, spouses were asked to allocate
responsibility for a series of positive as well as negative marital
tasks (e.g., resolving conflicts and causing arguments, respec-
tively), and to anticipate how their spouse would allocate respon-
sibility for these same tasks (Kruger & Gilovich, 1999). Spouses
actually allocated responsibility in a self-centered way, claiming
more responsibility for both positive and negative tasks (see also
M. Ross & Sicoly, 1979). Spouses believed their partners, how-
ever, would allocate responsibility in a self-serving way by claim-
ing more responsibility for positive tasks but less responsibility for
negative tasks. People’s judgments of the external world may or
may not be distorted by their self-interest, but it is clear that they
are not as distorted by self-interest as others believe them to be.
Notice how this naive cynicism (Kruger & Gilovich, 1999) can
work against benefits otherwise gleaned from reducing egocentric
biases in social interaction. Looking into the minds of others may
highlight cynical and self-interested motivations that would have
been otherwise overlooked if people were egocentrically focused
on their own interests and concerns. To counteract these presum-
ably selfish motivations in others, people may react by behaving
even more selfishly in return. This hypothesis is consistent with the
reciprocity norm observed in bargaining negotiations (Esser &
Komorita, 1975), in which the behavior of one person often leads
to similar (if not identical) behavior in another.
In addition, predictions about another’s behavior can influence
how one decides to act. For instance, in one prisoner’s dilemma
game, those who defected anticipated approximately four times as
much defection from others compared with those who cooperated
(Dawes, McTavish, & Shaklee, 1977). What’s more, people tend
to fear that they will be exploited by the selfish behavior of others
if they behave charitably and are therefore motivated to behave in
line with their own self-interest (Kelley & Stahelski, 1970; Messe´
& Sivacek, 1979). When people expect others to behave selfishly,
such reactive egoism could heighten rather than diminish conflict
and disagreement in social interaction, producing exactly the op-
874 EPLEY, CARUSO, AND BAZERMAN
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posite results that adopting others’ perspectives was designed to
produce.
Current Research
We therefore predicted that considering others’ perspectives in
social interactions—namely competitive social interactions—
would decrease egocentric biases in perceptions of fairness and
resource allocations but would ironically increase egoistic behav-
ior in those interactions compared with people who did not con-
sider others’ perspectives. We tested these hypotheses in four
separate experiments involving both simulated (Experiments 1, 2,
3, and 5) as well as actual (Experiment 4) resource allocation
negotiations. We predicted that reactive egoism would be caused
by the increasingly cynical thoughts that were activated upon
considering others’ perspectives, and we tested this hypothesis
directly in Experiments 2 and 4. Finally, we investigated the extent
to which reactive egoism in social interaction would be moderated
by the competitive versus cooperative nature of the interaction.
Cynical thoughts about others’ behaviors should be especially
likely to come to mind in competitive environments when others’
interests are opposed to one’s own but should be less likely in
cooperative environments where interests align. We tested this
situational moderator in Experiments 4 and 5.
Experiment 1: Fish
Commons dilemmas provide textbook contexts for observing
egocentric biases and conflict in social interaction. Such dilemmas
involve multiple parties making decisions that affect all of their
final outcomes. Commons dilemmas are defined by a context in
which each party has a choice to cooperate or defect (or to select
a behavior on a continuum between the two) in which all parties
would benefit through mutual cooperation but individuals would
profit through defection.
In real life, people often fail to solve these dilemmas optimally.
Too few behave in a manner that is best for the group as a whole,
and the fixed pool of resources is quickly depleted. Such a case
happened with commercial fishermen in the North Atlantic in the
1980s who overharvested the once abundant cod until it was on the
brink of collapse and the fishery was closed by government reg-
ulators (and it is still closed to this day). We modeled Experiment
1 after this very incident by adapting the Shark Harvesting and
Resource Conservation (SHARC) case (Wade-Benzoni et al.,
1996), a negotiation exercise based on the North Atlantic fishery
collapse.
In this simulated negotiation exercise, participants were as-
signed to represent one of four fishing industries and eventually to
indicate the percentage of the overall fish stock that was fair for
them to take as well as the percentage of the stock that they would
actually take. Some groups completed these measures after con-
sidering other group members’ perceptions of fairness, whereas
others did not consider others’ perceptions. We predicted that
those who considered other group members’ perceptions of fair-
ness would report that it was fair for them to take less of the overall
fishing stock but would actually take more of the stock compared
with participants who did not consider the other members’
perceptions.
Method
Participants
Harvard University undergraduates (N160) participated in this ex-
periment as a class exercise in an introductory social psychology course.
The course featured 2 lectures and 1 small discussion section per week.
There were a total of 13 discussion sections in this course, each consisting
of 14 to 18 students.
Procedure
Students within each section were divided into groups of 4, and partic-
ipants within each group were randomly assigned to one of the four
following association representative roles: “Large Commercial Fishers
Association,” “Small Commercial Fishers Association,” “Recreational
Competition Fishers Association,” and “Recreational Tours Association.”
Two days before their section meeting, students received an e-mail con-
taining a general overview of the SHARC case and their confidential
role-specific information and instructions. Students were instructed to read
through the materials and to prepare to interact with classmates represent-
ing the other three roles in the simulated conference, but they did not
complete any dependent measures at this time.
These materials informed participants that they would be participating in
a conference as a spokesperson for one of the four fishing associations
mentioned above, all of which depend on shark fishing for income. The
goal of the conference was to address the overharvesting crisis by deter-
mining the amount that each association of fishers should reduce their
current harvesting level in order to preserve the fish stocks. The commer-
cial fishers harvest more shark than the recreational fishers and are also less
concerned with the future harvest of any particular species as switching to
a different type of fish is relatively easy for them. The dilemma is therefore
asymmetric in that each organization contributes a different amount to the
current overharvesting problem and depends on the future health of the
resource to a different extent, thereby creating different interests and
concerns among the associations.
In trying to reach agreement about harvest reductions, participants from
each association wanted to (a) maximize current profit and (b) avoid
depleting the number of sharks left that would jeopardize future harvests.
Participants received a formula to enable profit calculations on the basis of
the combined harvesting levels of all groups, and they learned that each of
the associations was currently harvesting at their maximum capacity such
that the overall harvest would have to be cut in half to maintain a
sustainable population (from a current total harvest of 5,000 metric tons to
a total of 2,500 metric tons). Participants were told that all relevant
concerns were accounted for in the information and profit equations that
they received. Exact details of the profit calculations and equations par-
ticipants received are available from the authors.
Experimental conditions. On arrival to the section meeting, partici-
pants were asked to review the materials they received over e-mail and to
complete the first dependent measure in the experiment: estimates of fair
harvesting levels. All participants indicated what they believed to be fair
harvesting levels before being separated into individual groups for their
discussion with the other association representatives. The way in which
participants completed this dependent measure served as our key indepen-
dent variable.
Participants in approximately half of the groups (i.e., the self-focused
condition) were simply asked, “Of the total harvest taken, what do you
think is a fair percentage for your group to harvest?” Participants in the
remaining groups (i.e., the other-focused condition) first considered the
perspectives of the other group members before indicating what was fair
for them to harvest. In particular, participants in these groups were first
told, “Please take a minute to think about the other groups. As you can
imagine, they may have different priorities than you do and are likely to
view this situation from a different perspective. Thinking about the other
875
REACTIVE EGOISM
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groups, what amount will each of them indicate is fair for them to harvest?”
These participants were then asked, “Now, what do you think are fair
harvesting levels for each group, including your own?” The order of the list
of associations was held constant throughout all versions to minimize order
effects.
Assignment to the self-focused or other-focused conditions was done at
the level of the course section to ease presentation of the stimulus materials
in the large group setting. Random assignment to the self-focused versus
other-focused groups was done at the level of the group, whereas assign-
ment to each of the four roles was done randomly within each group.
The simulated conference. Students from each role were randomly
assigned to groups of 4 when they arrived for their section meeting such
that one representative from each of the four roles was included in each
group. Because each group needed to have representation from just one of
the roles, only complete groups of 4 were included in the analysis.
Each group was sent to a separate room with instructions to discuss how
much each association would harvest. The first dependent measure form
(which they had already completed) was collected from participants as they
entered the room. Participants were told that they could follow any format
they wished in discussing the issues and the potential solutions but that
they were not allowed to make any binding commitments to specific
harvesting levels (as happens in many real-life negotiations). After 25 min
of discussion, the experimenter entered the room and distributed the second
set of materials. Participants received role-specific final instructions, in-
cluding the final two dependent measures. Participants left the discussion
rooms and moved into a large lecture hall to ensure privacy and confiden-
tiality when filling out the final forms.
Final dependent measures. The final instructions reminded the spokes-
persons of the interests and goals of their associations. Participants once
again indicated what they believed to be fair harvesting levels on a form
similar to the one they completed before discussion. Participants in both
groups then recorded their actual harvesting level for the next year.
Participants handed in their forms and were told that the researchers would
perform the relevant calculations and would share aggregate results with
the class during the next lecture (which they did as promised).
Results
Fairness Estimates Before Discussion
Participants in both conditions estimated the percentage of the
available harvest that they thought was fair for their group to take.
The fairness estimates for each of the four roles were summed
within each group to create a measure of fairness for the group as
a whole. As can be seen in Table 1, groups in the self-focused
condition claimed it was fair for them to harvest significantly more
(133%) than groups in the other-focused condition (113%),
t(38) 3.04, p.005. Getting participants to think about their
fellow group members by considering their perceptions of fairness
caused a significant reduction in egocentric assessments of fair-
ness. This manipulation did not eliminate egocentric assessments
of fairness, however. The 113% claimed fair in the other-focused
condition was still significantly higher than the normative baseline
of 100%, t(19) 3.48, p.005.
Fairness Estimates After Discussion
After the group discussion, all participants again estimated the
percentage of the available harvest that they thought was fair for
their group to take. This discussion session allows representatives
from the different associations to talk with one another and share
their thoughts on the harvesting situation. The original demonstra-
tion of this simulation (with conditions similar to the self-focused
condition) found that egocentric assessments of fairness were
stronger before discussion than after discussion (Wade-Benzoni et
al., 1996). We replicated that result here. Groups in the self-
focused condition claimed it was fair for them to take 133% of the
harvest before discussion but only 111% after discussion, t(19)
5.54, p.001. Groups in the other-focused condition claimed it
was fair for them to take 113% before discussion and 116% after
discussion, t(19) 1, ns. These fairness estimates after discussion
did not differ between conditions, t(38) 1, ns, suggesting that
just thinking about others produces similar effects on fairness
judgments as does actually talking to them in this situation. The
repeated measures interaction for fairness estimates before and
after discussion across conditions was significant, F(1, 38)
21.26, p.001.
Actual Behavior
We predicted that considering others’ perspectives would de-
crease egocentric judgments of fairness but would actually in-
crease egoistic behavior. Results confirmed this prediction. De-
spite claiming that they deserved to take less before discussion,
groups in the other-focused condition actually ended up taking
more of the available harvest than did groups in the self-focused
condition, t(38) 5.57, p.001. Other-focused groups took
72.4% of the available harvest compared with the 56.9% taken by
the self-focused groups. This translated into lower profits for
groups in the other-focused condition (M$62.4 million) than for
groups in the self-focused condition (M$68.6 million). Al-
though self-focused groups consumed less than did other-focused
groups, it is worth noting that both of these figures are significantly
larger than the 50% figure required for a sustainable harvest,
ts(19) 12.35 and 3.29, respectively (both ps.01).
This pattern of behavior, coupled with the fairness judgments, is
consistent with our predictions. Considering others’ perspectives
led groups to report that it was fair for them to take less of the
overall harvest than groups in the self-focused condition before the
group discussion, but groups in the other-focused condition actu-
ally took more of the overall harvest than groups in the self-
focused condition. To test for the statistical significance of this
interaction, we standardized both fairness judgments and harvest
Table 1
Perceptions of Fair Allocations and Actual Behavior Among
Groups in the Self-Focused and Other-Focused Conditions
(Experiment 1)
Focus
condition
Fair to harvest (%) Actual harvest
Before
discussion After
discussion Tons %of
total
Self 133 111 2,846 56.9
Other 113 116 3,620 72.4
Note. Percentages listed in the first two columns are the summed per-
centage of the total harvest participants believed was fair for their associ-
ation to take. Figures reported in the third column are the metric tons of the
fishing stock that groups, on average, would actually harvest. The percent-
ages of total reported in the far right column are out of the total metric tons
available for harvest (5,000) rather than out of the total metric tons
available for a sustainable harvest (2,500).
876 EPLEY, CARUSO, AND BAZERMAN
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amounts and submitted them to a 2 (condition: self-focused vs.
other-focused) 2 (measure: fairness judgments vs. harvest be-
havior) analysis of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measures on
the second variable. The predicted interaction was indeed signifi-
cant, F(1, 38) 43.48, p.001.
Discussion
These results confirmed all of our major predictions. Egocentric
biases in judgments of fairness were reduced by leading partici-
pants to consider the perspectives of their other group members,
but this reduction did not lead to an analogous change in behavior.
Although these participants reported that it was fair for them to
take less of the shared resource, they actually ended up taking
more of that resource compared with participants whose egocentric
biases in judgment remained intact.
It is worth noting that the self-focused and the other-focused
groups did not differ in their stated judgments of fairness after
discussion; hence, the consideration of others’ concerns and inter-
ests before discussion seems to be responsible for the observed
differences in subsequent egoistic behavior rather than being sim-
ply a drop in egocentric allocations of fairness. This suggests that
people’s actions in this context are guided more strongly by their
beliefs about how others are likely to behave rather than by what
they believe is objectively fair for themselves to take. This result
is consistent with our hypothesis that considering others’ concerns
and interests activates beliefs about others’ behavior, which, in
turn, lead people to behave more selfishly themselves. This result
also suggests that simply being made aware of the reality con-
straints involved in the situation by attending to everyone’s needs
and thinking about it more carefully is insufficient to account for
the complete pattern of results we observed in the other-focused
conditions. Looking into the minds of others and intuiting their
thoughts and likely behavior increased egoistic behavior, but sim-
ply talking with others did not.
We interpret these behavioral results as a form of reactive
egoism. Considering others’ perspectives highlighted, we believe,
self-interested motives and likely actions on the part of other group
members. Believing that others would behave selfishly led partic-
ipants to behave more selfishly as well, even though they indicated
indirectly that such behavior was unfair. Such cynical thoughts
were unlikely to be considered, or processed as fully, when par-
ticipants were not explicitly led to consider others’ perspectives.
Experiment 1, however, was intended as a demonstration of our
main phenomena rather than as a test of its underlying mechanism.
To test this mechanism more directly, we conducted a follow-up
simulation with a new group of 50 participants, each of whom
imagined being a representative of the “Recreational Competition
Fishers Association.” These participants did not engage in the
actual exercise with other participants but instead simply read all
of the role-relevant materials from the SHARC exercise and re-
ported what they believed was fair for their association to harvest
and then to indicate what they would actually harvest. When
finished, all participants also indicated the amount they believed
each of the other fishing associations would actually harvest. Via
the same procedures as were used in Experiment 1, half of the
participants considered others’ perspectives before completing
these measures, whereas the other half did not.
As in Experiment 1, participants who considered others’ per-
spectives claimed it was fair for them to take less of the harvest
(M13.52%) than participants who did not (M25.00%),
t(48) 6.60, p.001, but these participants actually decided to
take more of the harvest (M732.70 metric tons) than did
participants who did not consider others’ perspectives (M629.2
metric tons), t(48) ⫽⫺2.18, p.05. This again produced a
significant Condition Measure interaction, F(1, 48) 49.23,
p.001. More important, participants who considered others’
perspectives also reported that others would take significantly
more of the overall harvest (M3303.90 total metric tons) than
participants who did not consider others’ perspectives (M
2656.30 total metric tons), t(48) ⫽⫺3.53, p.001. Beliefs about
what others would take, however, were only marginally correlated
with what participants indicated they would take (r.25, p
.08). These results are therefore suggestive only of the mechanism
underlying Experiment 1. We designed Experiment 2, in part, to
investigate that mechanism more fully.
Experiment 2: Grants
Experiment 2 was patterned after a generic resource allocation
conflict in which members of different groups compete for a fixed
pool of resources. In this experiment, undergraduates were asked
to imagine that the dean of their university had received an
anonymous donation to improve student life and that this gift was
to be distributed among the student residence houses (dorms).
Participants imagined that they were elected as a representative of
their house and indicated the amount of money they believed was
fair for their own group to receive as well as the amount they
would actually request from the dean. Half of the participants did
so after considering the perspectives of other house representa-
tives, whereas the other half did not consider others’ perspectives.
We predicted that those who considered others’ perspectives
would claim that they deserved less money from the dean but
would actually request more money compared with participants
who did not consider others’ perspectives.
When finished with these measures, participants also indicated
the amount they expected other representatives would request from
the dean. We predicted that those who considered others’ perspec-
tives would indicate that other representatives would request more
money than participants who did not consider others’ perspectives
and that this difference would mediate the difference in partici-
pants’ own requests.
Method
Participants
Two hundred ninety-three Harvard University undergraduates com-
pleted an online questionnaire. As compensation, 2 participants were
randomly chosen to win $250 each.
Procedure
Participants were sent an e-mail with a link to an online survey. The first
question randomly assigned them to either the self-focused (n141) or
the other-focused (n152) conditions.
The next screen asked participants to consider their current living
situation in college. At the end of the 1st year at Harvard University, all
877
REACTIVE EGOISM
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students are randomly assigned to live in one of 12 “houses” (clusters of
dormitories) on campus. They were asked to think about their house and
imagine that the dean of the university had received an anonymous dona-
tion of $100,000 to be used “to support and improve student life in the
undergraduate houses.” The dean would allocate the funds on the basis of
both the need of the houses (to support infrastructure, social activities, etc.)
as well as the strength of the proposal submitted by the students in each
house.
Consistent with Experiment 1, the self-focused group next reported what
they thought was a fair percentage of the grant for their house to receive.
The other-focused group, in contrast, first took a moment to think carefully
about the needs of each house, after which they reported what they thought
was a fair percentage for each house to receive (including their own).
Following the fairness estimates, participants in both groups were told to
imagine that they had volunteered to act as a representative for their house
to put together the proposal for the dean. Everything about the proposal
was said to be complete except for the amount of money they were going
to request from the dean. Following these instructions, participants indi-
cated what amount of the available $100,000 they would request from the
dean in their proposal. Just prior to making this estimate, those in the
other-focused group were once again asked to consider the perspectives
and the likely behavior of the student representatives from the other houses.
Finally, participants were asked a series of questions to measure their
beliefs about the other representatives’ likely behavior. Specifically, they
were asked to indicate (a) how much money (on average) they thought the
other house representatives would request in their proposals, (b) how fair
they thought the requests from the other houses would be (0 not at all
fair,10very fair), and (c) to what extent they thought the other houses
would attempt to gain more funding by exaggerating their own need (0
not at all,10very much).
Results
Fairness Versus Requests
As in Experiment 1, considering others’ interests and concerns
reduced egocentric assessments of fairness. Participants in the
other-focused condition claimed it was fair for them to receive less
(M10.4%) than participants in the self-focused condition (M
11.9%), t(291) 2.18, p.03. However, when asked how much
they would actually request from the dean, those in the other-
focused condition actually requested more (M$14,368) than
those in the self-focused condition (M$12,236), t(291)
2.21, p.03. After standardizing these two dependent variables
so they could be directly compared, a 2 (condition: self-focused vs.
other-focused) 2 (measure: fairness versus request) ANOVA
with repeated measures on the second variable revealed that this
interaction pattern was significant, F(1, 291) 14.41, p.001.
Predictions About Others
We propose that considering others’ perspectives in these com-
petitive contexts activated cynical thoughts about others’ likely
behavior, leading people to react more egoistically in return.
Participants’ predictions about the likely behavior of others sup-
port this assertion. As expected, those in the other-focused condi-
tion thought that representatives of the other houses would request
more from the dean (M$14,790) than those in the self-focused
condition (M$12,130), t(284) ⫽⫺2.32, p.025.
1
Similarly, other-focused participants suspected that representa-
tives from the other houses would be more likely to exaggerate
their need (M6.80) than self-focused participants (M6.18),
t(291) ⫽⫺2.78, p.01. The focusing manipulation did not,
however, have a significant effect on how fair participants thought
the proposals of the other houses would be (M
self-focused
5.40,
M
other-focused
5.18), t(291) 0.97, ns.
To examine whether beliefs about others’ likely selfish behavior
mediated the impact of condition on participants’ own behavior,
we followed the mediational procedure outlined by Baron and
Kenny (1986). Condition (self-focused or other-focused) served as
the independent variable in this analysis, amount participants re-
quested from the dean served as the dependent variable, and
estimates of what other house representatives would request served
as the mediator. As can be seen in Figure 1, condition had a
significant effect on estimates of how much participants would
request as well as on how much others would request. When both
the independent variable (condition) and the mediator (estimates of
others’ requests) were entered simultaneously into a regression
predicting participants’ own request, the effect of condition was no
longer significant, but estimates of others’ requests were a signif-
icant predictor of actual requests. The effect of condition decreased
significantly with the addition of estimates about others to the
model (Sobel z2.29, p.025).
1
Degrees of freedom vary for this analysis because 7 people failed to
complete this question.
Figure 1. Mediational analysis for Experiment 2. Coefficients are standardized betas. The coefficient in
parentheses is the direct relationship between the independent variable (condition) and the dependent variable
(own request from the dean), controlling for the proposed mediator (others’ request from the dean). *p.05.
**p.01.
878 EPLEY, CARUSO, AND BAZERMAN
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Discussion
These results again confirm our key predictions and expand on
the demonstration in Experiment 1 in two ways. First, Experiment
2 provided a novel demonstration and expanded on the generaliz-
ability of Experiment 1 by using a resource allocation task rather
than a commons dilemma. Second, Experiment 2 provided evi-
dence consistent with our proposed mechanism such that partici-
pants who considered others’ perspectives expected others to be
more self-serving and egoistic than participants who did not con-
sider others’ perspectives. This perceived egoism from others led
people to react by behaving more egoistically themselves and to
request more of the pool of fixed resources, even though they
reported that they deserved considerably less than they were re-
questing. Looking into the minds of others can lead people to
reduce self-serving assessments, but it can also ironically lead
people to behave more self-servingly than they would have other-
wise. Instead of removing the barriers to conflict resolution that
egocentric biases appear to have put in place, considering others’
perspectives may actually make matters worse by activating
thoughts about others’ self-interested motivations and likely be-
havior (Miller, 1999). In situations with diverging perspectives,
reducing an egocentric focus on one’s own interests may not be the
most prudent course of action.
There is, however, one notable weakness of Experiment 2.
Although mediational analyses support our proposed mechanism
of reactive egoism, such results are simply correlational and cannot
rule out the opposite causal model—that considering others’ per-
spectives somehow alters people’s own behavior and in turn in-
fluences people’s predictions about others’ behavior via egocentric
projection. Indeed, reversing the mediator and the dependent vari-
able in the mediational analysis also provides evidence for signif-
icant mediation (z2.18, p.05). This is not very surprising as
the amount participants requested themselves was highly corre-
lated with what they believed others would request (r.67, p
.001).
To be sure, a large amount of existing data has suggested that
people do indeed use their own thoughts and behaviors as a guide
to others’ thoughts and behaviors (e.g., Ames, 2004; Epley, Key-
sar, Van Boven, & Gilovich, 2004; Krueger & Clement, 1994; L.
Ross et al., 1977), but we believe that there are two reasons to
doubt that this reverse causal path explains the pattern of data we
observed. The first reason is theoretical. The account we have
offered in which perspective taking highlights cynical thoughts
about others provides a parsimonious and a priori explanation of
both the decrease in egocentric biases in fairness estimates as well
as the increase in egoistic behavior. It is harder to see how the
reverse causal path could as parsimoniously account for this in-
teraction between judgments of fairness and behavior. Our inabil-
ity to identify a compelling alternative does not, of course, mean
that such an alternative does not exist.
The second reason is empirical. Although the correlation in
Experiment 2 between the amount that participants requested and
the amount they believed others would request was generally very
strong, it was significantly stronger in the other-focused condition
(r.70) than in the self-focused condition (r.52, z2.49, p
.05). This difference in correlations is consistent (albeit not exclu-
sively so) with our hypothesis that participants’ own egoistic
behavior in the other-focused condition was a reaction to the
presumed behavior of others rather than simply a projection of
their own behavior onto others. The reverse causal story in which
participants’ own behavior is projected onto others would not
predict a difference between these correlations. Notice also that the
results of Experiment 1 are inconsistent with this reverse causal
path. Egocentric biases in fairness were identical after discussion
for both participants who considered others’ perspectives and
those who did not, but their behavior differed. This divergence
between judgment and behavior is consistent with our predictions,
but it is inconsistent with an account based solely on egocentric
projection from one’s own presumed or intended behavior to
others’ presumed or intended behavior.
These reasons are consistent with our theoretical account, but
they are only suggestive and may also be consistent with other
alternative interpretations of Experiments 1 and 2. Stronger sup-
port for our proposed mechanism rather than this alternative ac-
count would therefore come from an experiment that directly
manipulates the proposed mediator rather than one that simply
measures it, which pits these two accounts directly against one
another. Experiment 3 does exactly that.
Experiment 3: Grants, Take Two
We propose that the reactive egoism observed in Experiments 1
and 2 stemmed from participants’ beliefs about others’ selfish
behavior (activated by adopting others’ perspectives), rather than
from participants’ own selfish behavior influencing their beliefs
about others’ behavior. To test between these two accounts, we
designed an experiment in which either we manipulated partici-
pants’ predictions about their own behavior and then measured
their predictions about others’ behavior, or we manipulated par-
ticipants’ predictions about others’ behavior and measured partic-
ipants’ predictions about their own behavior. In particular, partic-
ipants in Experiment 3 considered the same resource allocation
dilemma used in Experiment 2. One group of participants (those in
the manipulate-others condition) first indicated either the highest
or lowest plausible amount of money that they believed the other
house representatives would request, on average, and then indi-
cated the amount they would actually request. The other group of
participants (those in the manipulate-self condition) did precisely
the opposite—they first indicated either the highest or lowest
plausible amount they would request from the dean and then
indicated the amount they believed the other house representatives
would request, on average. The account we have offered predicts
that manipulating predictions about others’ behavior will have a
stronger effect on participants’ predictions about their own behav-
ior than vice versa. The alternative account based on egocentric
projection, in contrast, would predict that manipulating predictions
about one’s own behavior would have a stronger effect on predic-
tions of others’ behavior than vice versa.
Method
Participants
One hundred thirty-six Harvard University undergraduates completed an
online questionnaire. As compensation, 1 participant was chosen at random
to win $250. This participant pool was the same as that used in Experiment
2, so 5 participants who also participated in Experiment 2 were excluded
from the following analyses.
879
REACTIVE EGOISM
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Procedure
The materials were identical to those used in Experiment 2, but the
procedure varied in several important ways. After reading the experimental
materials, participants in the manipulate-others condition were reminded
that the dean had a limited amount of funds to distribute and that everyone
was therefore recommended to request either the highest (in the high-
request condition) or the lowest (in the low-request condition) amount they
believed it was plausible to request. Participants then indicated how much,
on average, they thought the other representatives would request from the
dean and finally indicated how much they would actually request. Partic-
ipants in the manipulate-self condition were given the same information
but first indicated how much they would actually request and then indi-
cated the amount they believed other representatives, on average, would
request.
Results and Discussion
To test our key hypothesis, participants’ responses were sub-
mitted to a 2 (condition: manipulate-self vs. manipulate-others)
2 (request: high vs. low) 2 (target predicted: self vs. other)
ANOVA with repeated measures on the last factor. This produced
a main effect of request, F(1, 132) 16.56, p.001, qualified by
the predicted three-way interaction, F(1, 132) 6.39, p.01. As
can be seen in Table 2, participants in the manipulate-others
condition matched others’ presumed requests quite closely, with
no significant difference between predictions of others and re-
quests for self between the high- and low-request conditions;
interaction: F(1, 68) .61, p.44. Participants who indicated the
highest amount others would request asked for significantly more
from the dean themselves (M$18,291) than those who indicated
the lowest amount others would request (M$9,267), t(68)
2.69, p.01. In the manipulate-self condition, in contrast, a clear
discrepancy in what people themselves would request versus what
they thought others would request emerged; interaction: F(1,
64) 5.86, p.05. Although participants themselves requested
more in the high-request condition (M$20,364) than in the
low-request condition (M$9,656), t(64) ⫽⫺2.95, p.01,
there was no significant difference between these two conditions in
the amount participants believed that others would request (Ms
$16,016 and $13,828, respectively), t(64) .85, p.40. Finally,
the predicted requests of self and others were strongly correlated in
this experiment. But as with Experiment 2, this correlation was
significantly stronger in the manipulate-others condition (r.76,
p.001) than in the manipulate-self condition (r.41, p.001,
z3.20, p.001).
These results are consistent with our theoretical account and are
inconsistent with the reverse causal path, but they are not as tightly
linked to the empirical findings of Experiment 2 as we would have
liked to eliminate all concerns about this alternative interpretation
in that experiment. To provide such tightly linked support, we
conducted one additional follow-up experiment by using 141 Har-
vard university undergraduates who again completed an online
questionnaire for a chance to win a $250 lottery. These participants
completed a procedure similar to that in Experiment 3; but instead
of indicating the highest or lowest plausible values they or others
would request, these participants were given the average amount
participants thought others would request in the other-focused and
self-focused conditions in Experiment 2. In particular, participants
in the manipulate-others condition were told that after considering
the relevant facts, the other representatives, on average, had de-
cided to request either $14,367 (in the high-request condition) or
$12,236 (in the low-request condition) from the dean. Participants
then indicated how much they would actually request. Participants
in the manipulate-self condition, in contrast, were told to imagine
that after carefully considering the relevant facts that they had
decided to request either $14,367 (in the high-request condition) or
$12,236 (in the low-request condition). Participants in the
manipulate-self condition then indicated how much they believed
others, on average, would request from the dean.
As in Experiment 3, manipulating how much participants be-
lieved others would request significantly affected how much par-
ticipants themselves requested from the dean, with those in the
high-request condition asking for significantly more (M
$17,338) than those in the low-request condition (M$13,703),
t(75) 2.76, p.01. Manipulating what participants themselves
requested, in contrast, had no significant influence on how much
they believed that others, on average, would request in the high-
(M$13,957) versus in the low-request conditions (M
$13,716), t(62) 0.16, p.86. The interaction between these two
effects approached significance, F(1, 137) 3.02, p.08.
Although the mediational analysis in Experiment 2 is ambigu-
ous with respect to the causal impact of considering others’ be-
havior on influencing one’s own behavior (i.e., the causal connec-
tion in Experiment 3), in this additional follow-up experiment it is
crystal clear. Both experiments demonstrate that considering oth-
ers’ likely behavior had a significant effect on one’s own predicted
behavior, whereas considering one’s own behavior had no signif-
icant effect on predictions of others’ behavior. This experiment is
clearly consistent with our proposed mechanism underlying reac-
tive egoism and is inconsistent with the alternative model based on
the reverse causal path in which participants’ own behavior influ-
ences their predictions of others’ behavior.
Experiment 4: Chocolate Chips
One implication of our account of reactive egoism in social
interaction is that such reactive behavior should occur only when
the consideration of another’s perspective highlights divergent
self-interests. Such divergences are the sine qua non of competitive
group contexts, but not all group contexts are competitive. Groups
often work together in a cooperative fashion to achieve a mutually
shared goal. Self-interests in such cooperative contexts converge,
rather than diverge, and looking into the minds of others in these
contexts should not uncover the diverging self-interests that
Table 2
Predicted Amount Requested in the High- and Low-Request
Conditions for Self and Others Among Participants in the
Manipulate-Self Versus Manipulate-Others Conditions
(Experiment 3)
Request
condition
Manipulate-self Manipulate-others
Self
amount Others’
amount Self
amount Others’
amount
High $20,364 $16,016 $18,291 $19,000
Low $ 9,656 $13,828 $ 9,267 $11,528
Difference $10,708 $ 2,178 $ 9,025 $ 7,476
880 EPLEY, CARUSO, AND BAZERMAN
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emerge in the competitive contexts we have studied thus far. If
behavior toward other group members is mediated by what people
see when they look into the minds of those group members, then
the reactive egoism we observed in Experiments 1, 2, and 3 should
be moderated by the competitive versus the cooperative nature of
the group. In competitive contexts, considering others’ perspec-
tives should increase egoistic behavior. In cooperative contexts,
considering others’ perspectives should highlight shared interests
and therefore should not increase egoistic behavior.
We tested these hypotheses in Experiment 4 by designing an
actual commons dilemma in the laboratory. Instead of using sim-
ulated behavior as in Experiment 1, Experiment 4 measured actual
behavior by having participants take from a fixed pool of resources
we supplied to them. In particular, participants in Experiment 4
were asked to bake chocolate chip cookies in the laboratory. The
key feature of this experiment was that participants were given
only a small amount of premium chocolate chips for the entire
group to use in their cookies. The amount of chips (by weight)
taken by each participant—analogous to the amount of fish taken
in Experiment 1—served as our key measure of behavior. As in the
earlier experiments, half of the participants considered the per-
spectives of their other group members before indicating the
amount of the fixed resource it was fair for them to take, whereas
the other half did not.
In addition, half of the groups competed against each other,
whereas the other half cooperated with one another. This was
accomplished by manipulating the payoff structure of the experi-
ment. Competitive groups were told that the person who made the
best cookies in the group would be eligible for a monetary award,
whereas cooperative groups were told that the group who made the
best cookies would be eligible for a monetary award as a group.
We predicted that considering others’ perspectives would de-
crease egocentric perceptions of fairness regardless of the cooper-
ative or competitive nature of the group but that it would increase
egoistic behavior only in the competitive contexts. We therefore
predicted a significant interaction between judgment and behavior
among those in the competitive groups. Because cooperative con-
texts should highlight shared rather than divergent interests, we did
not predict the same interaction between judgment and behavior
among those in the cooperative condition.
Method
Participants
Ninety-four Harvard University undergraduates participated in this study
in exchange for $15 or partial course credit.
Procedure
Participants were greeted by an experimenter in a waiting area imme-
diately upon arrival to the laboratory and were then led to an individual
testing room. They were told that they would be baking chocolate chip
cookies in this experiment and that they would have to share a limited
amount of ingredients with 5 other group members. They were informed
that there were just enough ingredients for everyone to bake with their
given recipes. All were told that their cookies would be tasted and rated by
an independent judge.
Participants in the cooperative conditions were told that they would
receive a team score based on the average ratings of the cookies that each
team member baked such that their team score depended on everyone’s
performance. They were further notified that their group of 6 was com-
peting against other groups of 6 and that the team with the highest team
score would win $100. Participants in the competitive conditions, on the
other hand, were told that they were competing against the other members
of their own group for the best individual score such that the person in the
group of 6 with the highest score would be entered into a lottery for $100.
All participants were told that they had been randomly selected to be the
first member of their group to choose ingredients. Because many experi-
mental sessions occurred back-to-back, all participants were told that “the
group before you is just finishing up” to reduce any suspicion associated
with seeing another participant who was already in the midst of baking.
They were also told that they might see the next person in their group and
were instructed not to talk to any other participant they might see in the
kitchen or the common area.
After hearing the procedure, participants completed a set of measures
that reminded them that there were two types of chocolate chips available
for them to use in their cookies: premium Godiva chocolate chips and
generic CVS-brand diet chips.
2
Those in the self-focused conditions were
asked to report what percentage of each type of chips they thought was fair
for them to take. As in the previous experiments, those in the other-focused
groups were first asked to think about the situation from the perspective of
their other group members. They then reported what they believed was fair
for each of their other group members to take, as well as what they thought
was fair for themselves to take.
Once this form was completed and returned, the experimenter entered
the room to provide participants with a recipe for Nestle´ Toll House
chocolate chip cookies as well as two bowls containing the relevant
ingredients for the participants to mix. Participants were told that they
needed to go to the kitchen to see how the oven worked and to collect the
remaining ingredients necessary for baking. There were two bowls of
chocolate chips in the kitchen; one was clearly labeled Godiva and the
other was labeled CVS. There were half as many chips in the bowl of
Godiva compared with the bowl of CVS to highlight the relative scarcity
of the premium ingredient. There were, in fact, just enough total chips for
six batches of cookies.
After a brief description of how to set the oven temperature, the exper-
imenter reminded the participant that he or she was randomly chosen to
select ingredients first. Participants were left alone in the kitchen to choose
their chips and then returned to their individual lab room to finish preparing
their cookies. While participants were alone preparing their cookies, the
experimenter entered the kitchen to weigh the two bowls of chips to obtain
a measure of how much of each variety was taken by each participant.
When they finished preparing their dough, participants reported back to the
kitchen with four cookies on a baking sheet and placed them in the oven.
While waiting for their cookies to bake, participants completed another set
of dependent measures. Specifically, participants were asked to indicate the
percentage of chips that their fellow group members would have taken had
they been first to select ingredients. They were then asked to rate the
Godiva chips compared with the CVS chips “in terms of how valuable they
were to the quality of your cookies” on an 11-point scale (0 CVS much
more valuable,10Godiva much more valuable), followed by one final
measure of others’ likely behavior that asked participants to rate how
“cooperative” (working together) compared with how “competitive” (com-
peting against each other) they felt their group members were likely to be
(0 very competitive,10very cooperative). When the baking was
finished, one of the four cookies was saved and later rated for quality by
a “judge” (blind to experimental condition and hypothesis) on a 7-point
scale.
2
CVS is a large pharmacy retailer that carries a number of generic,
low-cost brands of common food items, whereas Godiva is a well-known
manufacturer of premium quality chocolate. The difference between these
two brands, and their obvious desirability, was well-known to participants.
881
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After 38 participants completed this procedure successfully, the 39th
participant inadvertently burned his cookies, setting off the fire alarm and
forcing the evacuation of the 15-floor building and all of the residents
therein. Due to public safety concerns and additional ire from colleagues,
we were unable to continue baking cookies following this incident. As a
result, actual ratings of the cookies were not included in the following
analyses. All subsequent participants completed the same procedure up to
the point of baking, at which point they completed the final set of depen-
dent variables and were then given the option of taking their dough home
to bake for themselves. Because this procedural change came at the very
end of the experiment and did not alter participants’ preceding experience
in any way, it is not surprising that there were no significant differences in
the results obtained before and after this procedural change in the following
analyses.
At the end of the experiment, participants were debriefed and probed for
suspicion about the nature of the study. They were informed about the
cooperative–competitive manipulation and were told that, in fact, the
names of 2 participants would be drawn at random for the $100 prizes.
Results
Judgment Versus Behavior
All participants were asked to estimate the percentage of the
available Godiva chips that they thought was fair for them to take
and then were allowed to actually take some amount of Godiva
chips to use in their baking. As in the preceding experiments, we
predicted a significant interaction between judgment and behavior
among participants in the competitive condition. Among partici-
pants in the competitive condition, those in the other-focused
condition claimed it was fair for them to take fewer Godiva chips
(M26.01%) than did those in the self-focused condition (M
31.01%), but those in the other-focused condition actually took
more chips (M3.01 oz.) than did those in the self-focused
condition (M2.55 oz.). A 2 (condition: self-focused vs. other-
focused) 2 (measure: fairness vs. behavior) ANOVA with
repeated measures on the standardized scores for the second factor
indicated that this interaction was significant, F(1, 45) 4.73, p
.05, although neither of these simple effects was significant,
ts(45) 1.49 and 1.57, respectively (ps.20).
Among participants in the cooperative condition, however, only
a main effect of perspective taking on judgment and behavior
emerged, F(1,45) 5.47, p.05, with no significant interaction
(F1, ns). As in the competitive condition, those in the other-
focused condition reported it was fair for them to take fewer
Godiva chips (M20.33%) than those in the self-focused con-
dition (M29.49%), but these other-focused participants also
took fewer chips (M1.62) than did self-focused participants
(M2.26). Follow-up contrasts revealed that both of these simple
effects were significant, ts(45) 3.10 and 2.47, respectively (both
ps.05).
Overall, these results indicate predictably divergent effects of
perspective taking on judgment versus behavior (see Table 3). For
participants’ judgments of fairness, only a significant main effect
of perspective-taking condition emerged, F(1, 90) 4.47, p.05,
with no main effect of cooperative versus competitive condition
nor any significant interaction (Fs1.3). Those in the other-
focused condition reported that it was fair for them to take fewer
Godiva chips (M23.34%) than did participants in the self-
focused condition (M30.20%), t(92) 2.12, p.05. For
participants’ actual behavior, however, there was a significant
interaction between our two experimental conditions, F(1, 90)
4.02, p.05. The decrease in the amount that participants in the
other-focused condition claimed was fair for them to take was
matched by a drop in the amount actually taken among those in the
cooperative condition but not among those in the competitive
condition.
Ratings About Others
We again predicted that participants’ behavior—in this case, the
amount of Godiva chips they actually took—would be mediated by
their beliefs about others’ likely behavior. We obtained two such
measures: (a) the amount of Godiva chips participants believed
each of the others would take if they had gone first and (b)
participants’ subjective ratings of how cooperative versus compet-
itive they expected their other group members to be. The average
of the first measure was significantly correlated with the second
(r⫽⫺.36, p.001) and showed the same pattern of responses,
so we reverse scored the subjective rating of how cooperative
participants expected others to be such that higher numbers indi-
cated more competitive behavior, standardized responses for both
measures, and then collapsed them into a single composite to ease
presentation.
A 2 (condition: self-focused vs. other-focused) 2 (context:
cooperative vs. competitive) ANOVA on this standardized com-
posite revealed a significant main effect of context, F(1, 90)
16.18, p.001, qualified by the predicted interaction, F(1, 90)
5.47, p.01. Other-focused participants expected others to be
significantly more competitive in the competitive condition (M
.57) than in the cooperative condition (M⫽⫺.54), t(47) 5.17,
p.001, but self-focused participants showed no difference in
how they expected others to behave in the competitive (M.05)
versus the cooperative conditions (M⫽⫺.09; t1). These results
are consistent with our prediction that considering others’ perspec-
tives will highlight motives and likely behaviors that people would
have otherwise overlooked.
Mediational Analysis
We predicted that these beliefs about others’ likely behavior
would mediate the effect of perspective taking in cooperative and
competitive groups on one’s own behavior. Because we expected
(and found) that perspective taking had different effects in coop-
Table 3
Percentage of Resource Participants Perceived Was Fair for
Them to Take and the Amount Actually Taken by Participants in
the Self-Focused Versus Other-Focused Conditions in the
Competitive Versus Cooperative Group Contexts (Experiment 4)
Focus
condition
Competitive Cooperative
Fair to
take (%) Amount
taken Fair to
take (%) Amount
taken
Self 31.01 2.55 29.49 2.26
Other 26.01 3.01 20.33 1.62
Note. The percentage of Godiva chips participants perceived was fair for
them to take across conditions is reported in percentages, whereas the
amount of Godiva chips actually taken is reported in ounces.
882 EPLEY, CARUSO, AND BAZERMAN
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erative and competitive groups, we were essentially predicting that
thoughts about others’ likely behavior would mediate the interac-
tion (or moderating effect) of our perspective taking and cooper-
ativeness manipulations on actual behavior. As such, we followed
the procedure for mediated moderation outlined in Baron and
Kenny (1986). We treated perspective taking, cooperative–
competitive context, and their interaction as the independent vari-
ables, predictions about others’ competitive behavior as the medi-
ator, and the actual amount of Godiva taken as the dependent
variable.
As can be seen in Figure 2, the interaction of perspective taking
and cooperativeness had a significant effect on the dependent
measure (amount of Godiva taken) as well as on the proposed
mediator (predictions of others’ competitive behavior), and the
proposed mediator significantly predicted the dependent measure.
Finally, when the mediator was added to the overall model, the
interaction term was significantly reduced (z2.02, p.05), and
it became nonsignificant (t⫽⫺.17, ns). The proposed mediator,
however, remained significant in this complete model (t9.68,
p.001). This pattern of results suggests that predictions about
others’ cooperative versus competitive behavior mediated the in-
teraction of perspective taking and cooperative–competitive con-
text on the amount of Godiva actually taken by participants.
As in Experiment 2, however, the reverse causal path also
yielded a significant mediational path (z2.11, p.05), but the
interaction term in this analysis also remained significant, (t
2.73, p.01), suggesting only partial mediation for this reverse
causal path. These mediational analyses are again only suggestive
for the causal direction of the underlying mechanism because the
mediator and key dependent measures were so highly correlated
(r.70, p.001), and we again defer to the results of Experi-
ment 3 for a more definitive demonstration of our proposed model.
Discussion
These results are consistent with our predictions that the com-
petitive versus cooperative nature of a group is an important
moderator of the impact of considering others’ perspectives on
social interaction. In particular, these results suggest that the
competitive versus cooperative nature of a group can moderate the
impact of perspective taking on behavior.
Competitive contexts are generally defined by competing inter-
ests among group members, and the consideration of others’ per-
spectives in the competitive condition of this experiment decreased
egocentric biases but directionally increased egoistic behavior.
Cooperative contexts, in contrast, are generally defined by shared
interests among group members. Considering others’ perspectives
in the cooperative condition of this experiment reduced egocentric
biases just as in the competitive condition, but it also decreased
egoistic behavior, unlike in the competitive condition. In fact,
participants in cooperative groups who considered others’ perspec-
tives tended to behave less egoistically than did participants who
did not consider others’ perspectives, behavior that was in line
with their judgments of fairness. Additional analyses again sug-
gested that these behavioral effects were mediated by participants’
beliefs about others’ likely behavior. Considering others’ perspec-
tives led participants in competitive contexts to believe that other
group members would have been more selfish and competitive,
leading participants to react by behaving more selfishly in return.
This reactive egoism did not occur in the cooperative conditions,
it appears, because such cynical thoughts simply were not acti-
vated in this context.
Experiment 5: Coalitions
Although consistent with our hypotheses, all of the experiments
presented thus far are open to an alternative interpretation. In
particular, instead of influencing people’s beliefs about others’
behavior, it is possible that considering others’ perspectives simply
led people to think harder about their behavior and the reality
constraints of the situation, thereby increasing the likelihood of
making a rational response. In Experiment 4, for instance, it is in
one’s own best interests (at least in the short term) to compete in
the competitive context and to cooperate in the cooperative con-
text, and it is possible that adopting others’ perspectives simply
made this rational response more transparent and therefore more
likely.
A clear test between this alternative interpretation and the one
we have offered would require manipulating the competitive ver-
sus cooperative group context while holding the actual reward
structure and reality constraints of these groups constant. Experi-
ment 5 did exactly this by simply manipulating the framing (or
Figure 2. Mediational analysis for Experiment 4. Coefficients are standardized betas. The independent variable
in this analysis (between-conditions interaction) is the interaction between self-focused versus other-focused
conditions and the competitive versus cooperative nature of the experimental incentives. The coefficient in
parentheses is the direct relationship between the independent variable (between-conditions interaction) and the
dependent variable (amount of Godiva taken), controlling for the proposed mediator (others’ predicted com-
petitive behavior). *p.05. **p.01.
883
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description) of a novel negotiation exercise. All participants expe-
rienced the same exercise, but half were told they were playing the
“cooperative alliance game,” whereas the other half were told they
were playing the “strategic competition game.” This experiment
was inspired by earlier findings that people play more competi-
tively in a prisoner’s dilemma game when it is described as the
“Wall Street game” than when the game is described as the
“community game” (Liberman, Samuels, & Ross, 2004). The
particular negotiation exercise in Experiment 5, however, is novel.
Although objectively identical in terms of their structural payoff
and therefore in their rational response, changing the way the game
is described is likely to change participants’ beliefs about the
normative responses of other participants and to alter participants’
own behavior in turn. A significant framing effect in this experi-
ment would not rule out the possibility that considering others’
perspectives increases the likelihood of identifying the most ratio-
nal response in a social interaction (as it would require affirming
the null hypothesis), but it would rule in the importance of others’
presumed behavior as a determinant of reactive egoism.
Method
Participants engaged in a 4-person negotiation in which they represented
companies involved in either the development or the distribution of fuel
cells. The goal was for participants to maximize their profits, and to do so
they needed to form strategic alliances with other members of the group
(ideally with all members of the group). Creating an alliance generated
financial value but came at a cost of effort to each of the participants that
reduced their profits. Effort was not explicitly monitored, however, and
individuals could profit by entering into an alliance and then expending
less effort than they promised. This procedure was designed to mimic
real-world strategic alliances, which often fail in part because individual
parties do not contribute sufficient resources to support the endeavor.
Participants who formed alliances indicated what percentage of the total
profit they believed was fair for them to receive, which served as our
measure of perceived fairness. The effort participants actually chose to
expend in the exercise (at a cost to their profits) served as our behavioral
measure of selfishness.
Approximately half of the participants were told they were participating
in the strategic competition game, whereas the other participants were told
that they were participating in the cooperative alliance game. We expected
to observe reactive egoism in the competition game but not in the alliance
game. That is, we expected that participants who considered others’ per-
spectives in the strategic competition game would say it was fair for them
to receive less of the overall profits (indicating that they would expend
more effort) but would actually expend less effort than participants who did
not consider others’ perspectives. We did not expect this reactive pattern
among participants in the cooperative alliance game, but, we instead
expected, as in Experiment 4, that those who considered others’ perspec-
tives would claim they deserved less of the overall profit and would
demonstrate behavior consistent with that assessment (i.e., they would
expend more effort to the alliance).
Participants
One hundred twenty-four participants from an existing participant pool
of Boston-area residents participated in exchange for $15 and the chance to
win an additional $25 on the basis of their performance.
Procedure
Participants reported to a computer laboratory in groups of up to 36 and
drew a number from a bowl that randomly assigned them to their experi-
mental conditions (described in the following paragraphs). The numbers on
the cards also corresponded to the hypothetical company that the individual
would be representing in the experiment: Alpha, Beta, Cappa, or Delta.
Participants were seated in front of individual computers, provided with
written instructions about the experiment, and listened to a presentation
from the experimenter clarifying the rules of the game. The instructions
explained that participants would be involved in a simulated negotiation
exercise, with each individual representing one of four firms in the emerg-
ing fuel cell market. Two firms, Alpha and Cappa, were fuel cell devel-
opers; they were working to develop and refine the basic fuel cell design.
Firms Beta and Delta were cell distributors; they were responsible for
connecting fuel cells to the residential market. All four firms were de-
scribed as having important patents or offering unique benefits in the
industry.
Ostensibly, as the result of the interconnected nature of this industry,
each firm in this exercise was worthless alone but potentially valuable in an
alliance with other firms. The goal of the simulation therefore was to have
fuel developers form strategic alliances with cell distributors. No firm was
allowed to participate in more than one alliance, and three-way alliances
were not allowed. If the firms managed to form an alliance, the alliance
would create financial value that would need to be divided among the
members of the alliance. Such value, however, came at a cost. Being in an
alliance required a firm to contribute resources to support the alliance,
meaning that each of the firms would also incur some costs. The precise
value and cost for all possible alliance types were each made explicit in the
instructions, the exact details of which are available from the authors.
The general structure of these values and costs was specified such that
firms that did not form an alliance created no value but also incurred no
costs. Two-way alliances between one cell developer and one cell distrib-
utor created some value and incurred some costs, and four-way alliances
had the potential to create more value than any of the two-way alliances.
If the four parties agreed to a four-way alliance, the value of that alliance
would depend on the combined effort that the four firms contributed
independently to support the alliance. That is, each firm chose which of
three levels of effort, or cost, they would forgo in order to make the alliance
as a whole more profitable. Participants knew they would be making this
decision privately and anonymously. In this sense, the game was similar in
structure to the social dilemmas faced by participants in Experiments 1 and
4. As an incentive, each participant received one “lottery ticket” for every
$1 million earned in this simulation, and a computer selected one winning
ticket from each of the four firms to receive an additional $25 in the
experiment. All participants thus had the same financial incentive to
maximize their individual profits.
After hearing the instructions, participants filled out a form on the
computer asking them to indicate what percentage of the total alliance
value they thought would be fair for them to receive, should they enter into
a four-way alliance. Consistent with our previous studies, those in the
self-focused condition simply reported the amount they thought was fair
for their own firm to receive, whereas those in the other-focused condition
were first asked to think about the situation from the perspective of the
other firms and then to report what they thought was fair for each firm to
receive (including their own).
As mentioned earlier, we manipulated the cooperative versus competi-
tive nature of the experiment simply by changing the name of the game,
while keeping the structure identical across all participants. Those in the
cooperative condition were told they would be working with each other in
the cooperative alliance game, whereas those in the competitive condition
were told they would be competing with each other in the strategic
competition game. The name of the game was displayed on the top of the
instruction sheets and on the top of each form presented on the computer.
When finished with their fairness estimates, participants gathered in
groups of 4 in small conference rooms to discuss, negotiate, and decide on
any alliances. Participants had 20 min for discussion, after which they had
to be prepared to state which alliance, if any, they had agreed upon. Firms
884 EPLEY, CARUSO, AND BAZERMAN
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entering an alliance needed to submit an alliance agreement form that
specified which type of alliance was reached and how the ultimate value of
the alliance would be distributed among the four firms. After each firm
signed the form, the experimenter entered the values into a computer that
performed the relevant profit calculations.
Participants then returned to their computers to complete the final
dependent measures privately. The first of these was the level of effort they
chose to contribute to support their alliance. Any firm entering a four-way
alliance specified a high, medium, or low level of effort. Finally, partici-
pants indicated how cooperative they thought their group interaction was
on an 11-point scale ranging from 0 (very competitive)to10(very coop-
erative). When finished, a computer program calculated the individual
profits for each firm and chose the $25 prize winners on the basis of the
results. Participants were then debriefed, paid, and dismissed.
Results and Discussion
Judgment Versus Behavior
Before actually agreeing on any alliances, participants were
asked to imagine they were successful in forming a four-way
alliance and to estimate the percentage of the resulting profits they
thought was fair for them to receive. Following the group inter-
action, participants had to decide what amount of effort to con-
tribute to support their alliance (all groups agreed on a four-way
alliance). As increased effort corresponded to less selfish behavior
(sacrificing more individual profit for the good of the group), we
expected lower levels of effort in the other-focused competitive
groups. We coded a low level of effort as 1, a medium level as 2,
and a high level as 3. Once again, asking participants in compet-
itive groups to consider the situation from the perspective of the
other firms diminished egocentric perceptions of fairness but ac-
tually increased egoistic behavior. Other-focused participants in
competitive groups claimed that it was fair for them to receive
marginally less of the profits (M27.0%) than their self-focused
counterparts (M31.1%), t(66) 1.74, p.09, but other-
focused participants actually contributed less effort (M2.34)
than did self-focused participants (M2.78), t(66) 2.68, p
.01. A 2 (condition: self-focused vs. other-focused) 2 (measure:
fairness vs. behavior) ANOVA with repeated measures on the
standardized scores for the second factor indicated that this pre-
dicted interaction was significant, F(1, 66) 8.67, p.01.
No such interaction, however, emerged for participants in the
cooperative condition (F1, ns). Other-focused participants in
the cooperative condition claimed they deserved nonsignificantly
less of the profits (M28.9%) than did self-focused participants
(M32.2%), t(53) 1.37, p.20, and showed no significant
difference in the amount of effort they actually contributed (Ms
2.81 and 2.79, respectively).
Overall, the results reveal the consistent pattern found in the
previous studies. For judgments of fairness, participants in the
other-focused condition indicated that it was fair for them to take
less of the overall profit (M28.0%) than participants in the
self-focused condition (M31.5%), t(121) 2.09, p.05.
3
The
amount claimed fair to take did not differ between those in the
cooperative (M30.3%) and the competitive (M29.2%)
conditions, t(121) 1, ns, and there was no interaction between
the perspective-taking and cooperative–competitive groups, F(1,
119) 1, ns. For actual behavior, an ANOVA revealed a signif-
icant Condition Framing interaction, F(1, 120) 4.67, p.05.
As noted earlier, inspection of the means revealed that participants
in the self-focused cooperative (M2.79), self-focused compet-
itive (M2.78), and other-focused cooperative (M2.81)
groups all contributed more effort than those in the other-focused
competitive group (M2.34).
Ratings of Competition–Cooperation
Participants also rated how cooperative versus competitive their
group interaction was, and these ratings showed effects similar to
those seen in Experiment 4. Participants in the other-focused
condition rated their interaction as more competitive in the com-
petitive frame condition (M6.17) than in the cooperative frame
condition (M7.88), t(62) 2.79, p.01. There was no
significant difference, however, in the self-focused condition be-
tween those in the competitive frame condition (M7.29) and
those in the cooperative frame condition (M7.47; t1). This
interaction was significant, F(1, 120) 4.04, p.05. A media-
tional analysis with this measure of competition–cooperation as a
mediator of the interaction between our two experimental condi-
tions on participants’ own behavior was nonsigificant (z1.57,
p.12), as was the analysis reversing the mediator and the
dependent measure (z1.62, p.10). Of course, the implication
of this measure is more ambiguous than the result from Experi-
ment 4 because participants completed this measure after a real
interaction rather than simply imagining or predicting how others
would behave as in the previous experiments. This measure is,
however, at the very least consistent with those of the previous
experiments and again suggests that looking into the minds of
others may highlight motivations and interests that an egocentric
focus on the self might otherwise overlook.
Overall, the results of Experiment 5 confirm our main predic-
tions that altering the description of the participants’ exercise
would alter their behavior, despite holding constant the actual
structure and incentive system of the game. Those who believed
they were playing the strategic competition game displayed the
patterns of reactive egoism observed in the preceding experiments.
Those who considered others’ interests and concerns demonstrated
weaker egocentric biases in perceptions of fairness but actually
behaved more selfishly compared with participants who did not
consider others’ perspectives. Those who believed they were play-
ing the cooperative alliance game, in contrast, did not show this
pattern of reactive egoism, again demonstrating how the compet-
itive versus cooperative context can alter the impact of perspective
taking in social interaction. These results are not open to the
alternative interpretation that perspective taking simply increased
the tendency to notice, and therefore to choose, the most rational
response or to attend more carefully to the reality constraints of the
situation. The rational response and reality constraints remained
constant across all experimental conditions, and yet the predicted
pattern of behavior emerged.
General Discussion
It is unlikely that a blind person would ever argue with a sighted
person about the color of a painting, the shape of a cloud, or the
3
One participant who failed to fill in this question was excluded from
analyses of fairness estimates.
885
REACTIVE EGOISM
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extent to which one’s shirt matches one’s pants. People’s eyes are
universally recognized conduits for their visual experience, and the
reasons for divergent visual perceptions are therefore relatively
easy to identify and appreciate. Harder to identify and appreciate,
however, are the ways in which psychological factors such as
preexisting expectations, attitudes, or self-interest can also influ-
ence people’s perceptions of the external world. Two equally
sighted people with divergent interests and beliefs may look at the
very same stimulus—from a court settlement to a labor contract to
an aggressive play in a sporting event—and “see” very different
things (Hastorf & Cantril, 1954; L. Ross & Ward, 1995, 1996).
Unlike divergent perceptions between the sighted and the blind,
however, a failure to identify and appreciate the reasons for diver-
gences in psychological perspectives can lead to heated conflict
between individuals, between groups, and between nations (Pro-
nin, Puccio, & Ross, 2002).
One commonly offered strategy for alleviating these diver-
gences in psychological perspectives is for people to actively
consider the other side’s thoughts, interests, and concerns in the
hopes that doing so will overcome egocentric biases in judgment.
In the present experiments, we investigated the consequence of
such perspective taking on people’s judgments and behaviors in a
series of social interactions. We observed two consistent results.
First, considering others’ perspectives did indeed diminish ego-
centric assessments of fairness. Those who considered what other
group members would think is a fair allocation reported that it was
fair for them to take a smaller percentage of fixed resources than
those who did not consider others’ perspectives. This occurred in
a wide variety of social interactions, with resources ranging from
fish (Experiment 1) to grant money (Experiments 2 and 3) to
chocolate chips (Experiment 4) to corporate profits (Experi-
ment 5).
4
Our second consistent finding was that these reductions in
egocentric assessments of fairness were not consistently matched
by reductions in egoistic or self-serving behaviors. Instead, each of
the experiments demonstrated a reliable tendency for reactive
egoism in competitive groups. Although those who considered
others’ perspectives claimed it was fair for them to take less of a
fixed resource than those who did not consider others’ perspec-
tives, these participants actually took more of those very resources
when given the opportunity to do so. This occurred, as Experi-
ments 2 and 4 suggested and as Experiment 3 demonstrated
directly, because considering others’ perspectives led participants
to believe that others would behave more selfishly. Egocentric
assessments of fairness are obvious and well-documented sources
of conflict between individuals and within groups, but reducing
those egocentric biases does not necessarily reduce conflict in
behavior. Sometimes, in fact, considering others’ perspective
could make matters worse.
In addition to demonstrating this interaction between judgment
and behavior, and obtaining evidence to support our proposed
mechanism of reactive egoism, Experiments 4 and 5 also demon-
strated that the competitive versus cooperative nature of a group is
an important moderator of the impact of perspective taking on
behavior. In competitive groups defined by divergent interests and
goals, the consideration of others’ perspectives leads to reactive
egoism. In cooperative groups defined by shared interests and
goals, however, perspective taking reduces egoistic behavior.
Looking into the mind of a competitor highlights self-interested
motives and leads people to behave more self-interestedly in
return. Looking into the mind of a cooperative collaborator, how-
ever, highlights shared interests and leads to more cooperative
behavior in return. The impact of perspective taking on behavior
among individuals or within groups, then, depends critically on
what people see when they look into the minds of others.
These results suggest that one of the keys to harnessing the
benefits of perspective taking in groups without incurring the costs
of reactive egoism is to highlight the shared interests between
otherwise competitive group members. We did this explicitly in
Experiment 5 simply by changing the description of the group task
to make cooperation a salient goal, while keeping the competitive
structure of the group interaction constant. The importance of
highlighting superordinate goals is not, of course, a new revelation
for social psychologists (Sherif, 1958), but it does provide greater
insight into exactly how and why a focus on superordinate goals is
likely to reduce conflict in social interactions. Research suggests
that one of the main benefits of perspective taking is to coordinate
social goals and thereby create social bonds (Galinsky, Ku, &
Wang, 2005). Highlighting the potential for coordination between
group members may be sometimes necessary to ensure that per-
spective taking produces these beneficial outcomes.
It is unlikely, however, that the competitive versus the cooper-
ative nature of the group is the only important moderator of
reactive egoism, and we believe there are at least two additional
moderators that seem particularly promising for future research to
pursue. The first promising moderator is the specific procedure
involved in perspective taking. As we mentioned earlier, perspec-
tive taking does not refer to a specific set of mental operations but
encompasses a broad range of procedures and instantiations (for a
review see Galinsky et al., 2005). In our experiments, perspective
taking was an entirely cognitive enterprise in which participants
considered the likely thoughts and actions of other group members.
Given that people tend to think they are more fair than others
(Messick et al., 1985; Messick & Sentis, 1979) and tend to see
others with divergent interests as being more extreme than they
4
It is worth noting that these results are interesting in their own right, as
manipulations that may appear conceptually similar to our perspective-
taking manipulation have proven ineffective in reducing egocentric assess-
ments of fairness in past research (Babcock et al., 1995; Lord et al., 1979).
Most relevant is an experiment in which participants in a mock court trial
were asked to generate the most convincing arguments they possibly could
for their opponent’s side (Babcock et al., 1995). Instead of diminishing
egocentric assessments of fair settlements in this case between opposing
sides, as we found here, this manipulation actually produced a marginally
significant increase in egocentric assessments. We suspect the difference
between Babcock et al. (1995) and our own studies is that participants in
the former study were explicitly asked to generate compelling arguments
for the opposing side’s case, whereas participants in our experiments were
simply asked to think about what others would think was a fair resolution.
Generating arguments is a relatively effortful process, and any difficulty in
generating these arguments would likely lead people to conclude that the
opposing side’s arguments are not especially compelling (Schwarz, 1998).
Simply thinking about what others would think is fair, in contrast, requires
relatively little mental effort and readily activated relevant information that
people would have otherwise overlooked. The manipulation used in our
research is more analogous to what has been called unpacking in past
research (Tversky & Koehler, 1994) and is a manipulation that has proven
successful in reducing egocentric biases (Savitsky et al., 2005).
886 EPLEY, CARUSO, AND BAZERMAN
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actually are (Robinson, Keltner, Ward, & Ross, 1995), this kind of
perspective taking may have been particularly likely to activate
cynical thoughts about others’ motives in competitive contexts. It
is possible that alternate forms of perspective taking may be less
likely to activate the cynical thoughts that produce reactive
egoism.
For instance, Batson & Moran (1999; see also Batson & Ahmad,
2001) have reported that empathizing with the unpleasant circum-
stances of another person can lead to increased cooperation in a
prisoner’s dilemma game. In this experiment, some participants
were asked to empathize with a woman who had just described the
break up of a romantic relationship, whereas others remained
objective while reading this description. Those who empathized
with the negative emotions of this woman were more likely to
cooperate with her in a subsequent prisoner’s dilemma game than
those who did not. This may have occurred because people were
simply reluctant to inflict more negative affect by defecting on
someone currently experiencing such pain, but it may also have
occurred because the particular manner in which one adopts an-
other’s perspective moderates one’s reactions toward them.
Indeed, we have reported elsewhere (Caruso, Epley, & Bazer-
man, 2006) the results of a hypothetical prisoner’s dilemma game
in which those who considered others’ thoughts and likely behav-
ior—akin to the perspective-taking manipulation used in the stud-
ies reported here—were significantly more likely to defect (60.0%)
than participants who did not consider others’ thoughts and likely
behavior (27.5%). This occurred because participants who consid-
ered others’ thoughts before deciding what to do believed that
others were significantly more likely to defect than those who only
considered others’ likely behavior after making their own decision.
We have found similar results in a simulated trust game (Berg,
Dickhaut, & McCabe, 1995), in which participants imagined that
they personally had $10 in Round 1 and could give some amount
of it to their partner. The amount given would be tripled, and the
partner would then have the opportunity to return any amount of
the tripled money to the participant. Those who first considered
how the other player was likely to behave passed significantly less
money to their partner in Round 1 (M$3.00) than those who did
not (M$4.77).
To the extent that empathizing with another person’s situation
reduces cynical or self-interested thoughts about others, the neg-
ative consequences of perspective taking that we document here
might be minimized or eliminated. Similarly, asking people to
imagine what they would think if they were in another person’s
roleakin to Stotland’s (1969) imagine-self condition—might
also diminish the cynical thoughts that created reactive egoism in
the present experiments (Batson, Early, & Salvarani, 1997). This
would occur, however, only if people actually believed that they
personally would not behave egoistically if they were placed in
another person’s situation. Although people consistently believe
they are fairer than others (Messick et al., 1985), it remains an
empirical question whether people would imagine being selfless if
placed in another role.
The second promising moderator is the specific identity of the
target of perspective taking. Recall that the key mechanism under-
lying the consequences of perspective taking is the thoughts that
people are led to consider when they look into the mind of another
person. Participants in the experiments reported here were asked to
consider the perspective of relatively unknown targets. But targets
known to be selfish would likely produce even more reactive
egoism, and targets known to be selfless would produce even less
reactive egoism compared with these unknown targets. Even in the
absence of direct knowledge about the selfishness of the target,
people often have preexisting beliefs about certain classes of other
people that might influence their intuitions about their motives.
Because people tend to trust in-groups and distrust out-groups
(e.g., Levine & Campbell, 1972; Tajfel, Billig, Bundy, & Flament,
1971), we could predict that people would expect their friends or
other in-group members to behave less selfishly than their enemies
or other out-group members such that reactive egoism would be
more likely to occur when taking the perspective of the latter
groups than the former.
Finally, we believe this research has interesting implications for
the impact of self-interest (or egoism) on social interaction in
general and for conflict resolution in particular. For social inter-
action, these results join a growing body of research investigating
the actual versus assumed impact of self-interest on judgment and
behavior (Epley & Dunning, 2000; Kruger & Gilovich, 1999;
Miller, 1999; Miller & Ratner, 1998; Ratner & Miller, 2001) and
suggest that the assumed impact of self-interest on others’ behav-
ior can influence the apparent impact of self-interest on people’s
own behavior. In our experiments, perspective taking increased
selfish or egoistic behavior because it led participants to expect
selfish or egoistic behavior from their other group members. Par-
ticipants behaved more selfishly, it appears, because of their the-
ories that others would behave selfishly rather than because they
were explicitly acting as self-interested agents. These results are
consistent with Miller’s (1999) suggestion that self-interest may
influence behavior by operating as a descriptive social norm rather
than (or perhaps in addition to) operating as a core social motive.
It is interesting that research suggests that people tend to overes-
timate the impact of self-interest on others’ attitudes (Miller &
Ratner, 1998) and judgments (Kruger & Gilovich, 1999), meaning
that the reactive egoism we observed in our experiments may have
been something of an overreaction. Egocentrically attending to
one’s own concerns, interests, and perspective in social interaction
can create its own set of problems, but undoing that egocentric
focus can create quite another.
For conflict resolution in particular, these results imply that the
intuitive appeal of reducing an egocentric focus on one’s own
interests and concerns may produce some potentially negative
consequences. It is virtually axiomatic that considering others’
perspectives is desirable in negotiations and conflict situations
(Neale & Bazerman, 1983; Paese & Yonker, 2001), but our results
place an important caveat on this general sentiment. Sometimes
considering others’ perspectives can increase the very egoistic
behavior that perspective taking was designed to reduce. Care
should be taken when suggesting that people should look beyond
their own perspective, as those who look into the minds of others
may not like what they see.
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Received August 8, 2005
Revision received February 15, 2006
Accepted February 26, 2006
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... Yet our current understanding of how to encourage empathic perspective-taking in the context of natural resource dilemmas is confused at best (Acheson, 2006). Alternative research suggests that perspective-taking, specifically considering others' motivations for self-interested behavior, can encourage selfish behavior (Miller, 1999) and reactive egoism (i.e., where ex- pectations of self-serving behavior by others can contribute to egoistic behavior among participants) ( Epley et al., 2006). ...
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This writing proposed conseptual idea about pair-counseling application to increase perspective taking ability. Same researches proved that perspective taking can effect social behavior. Based on that data, perspective taking can be used as intervention target to handle some behavioral disorders such as violence among teenagers. Theoritically, peer counseling has effective therapitic characteristics to upgrade perspective taking. Some techniques in pair counseling and the playing environment can develop perspective taking ability among children and teenagers.
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