Character  &  Context

A Little Perspective Goes a Long Way: Perspective Takers Are Liked More than Non-Perspective Takers

by Adrianna Tassone
A woman looks across a telescope in front of a glass building

It may come as no surprise that political polarization is on the rise; liberals are becoming more liberal, and conservatives are becoming more conservative. This is more than simple disagreement; political polarization involves an extreme commitment to one’s ideology and an unwillingness to consider other viewpoints. According to Kristin Laurin from the University of British Columbia, we need to be willing to take the perspective of people with opposing views in order to combat political polarization. But how do people perceive those who engage in such perspective taking? How would you feel if a friend who shares your political views spent time researching and considering opposing political views? Would you like them more or less?

Laurin and graduate student Gordon Heltzel set out to answer this question. Over 6 studies, participants reported their own views on 4 political topics, and read a vignette about a character with the same political views. The character was either a perspective-taker (said they were interested in considering the opposing view) or was a non-perspective-taker (said they were not interested in considering the opposing view). Participants then reported how much they liked the character. Results show that participants liked the perspective taker more than the non-perspective-taker. These results held when instead of vignettes, these participants had to rate how much they would like to work with a confederate who was either a perspective taker or a non-perspective-taker.

Do these results apply to everyone? Maybe some people are more accepting of perspective takers than others. Perspective-taking can make people seem disloyal, and conservatives are more sensitive to disloyalty than liberals, so perhaps they would like perspective-takers less. Or, perhaps people with more extreme political views on either side of the spectrum would like perspective-takers less, since they tend to be less open to opposing views. Participants in another study reported their political orientation and strength of their political views. Even though participants who were more conservative and those with more extreme political views liked the perspective takers a little less than those who were more liberal and with less extreme political views, they still liked perspective-takers more than non-perspective takers. Overall, people seem to like perspective-takers more than non-perspective takers regardless of their personal political orientation or extremity of their views.

Laurin’s research illuminates how people perceive those who are willing to perspective- take. So far, this research suggests that people like those who are willing to consider the other side of a political argument. This finding is important for political polarization because how we see others being treated for perspective-taking might influence whether or not we are willing to perspective-take ourselves.


Written by: Adrianna Tassone, MA student at Wilfrid Laurier University

Presenter: Kristin Laurin (University of British Columbia) https://psych.ubc.ca/profile/kristin-laurin/

Session: “Interpersonal Dynamics of Ideological Conflict Management” part of symposium, “Persuasion and Activism Across Moral Divides” on Saturday, February 9th, 2019.  

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