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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Sep 18;115(38):9521-9526. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1804002115. Epub 2018 Sep 4.

Perspective taking can promote short-term inclusionary behavior toward Syrian refugees.

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Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0521;
Department of Politics, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540.
Division of Social Science, New York University Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.


Social scientists have shown how easily individuals are moved to exclude outgroup members. Can we foster inclusion instead? This study leverages one of the most significant humanitarian crises of our time to test whether, and under what conditions, American citizens adopt more inclusionary behavior toward Syrian refugees. We conduct a nationally representative survey of over 5,000 American citizens in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election and experimentally test whether a perspective-taking exercise increases inclusionary behavior in the form of an anonymous letter supportive of refugees to be sent to the 45th President of the United States. Our results indicate that the perspective-taking message increases the likelihood of writing such a positive letter by two to five percentage points. By contrast, an informational message had no significant effect on letter writing. The effect of the perspective-taking exercise occurs in the short run only, manifests as a behavioral rather than an attitudinal response, and is strongest among Democrats. However, this effect also appears in the subset of Republican respondents, suggesting that efforts to promote perspective taking may move to action a wide cross-section of individuals.


empathy; exclusion; immigration; perspective taking; refugees

[Available on 2019-03-18]
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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