“I Don’t Want To Take The Perspective Of Minority Group Members”: Instructions Enhance Reactance And Non-Compliance

Blatant prejudice against refugees is on the rise in many Western countries1. Can we reduce prejudicial attitudes and promote empathy toward minority group members?

Previous research suggests that this is possible, showing promising findings when employing a perspective-taking intervention. Typically, participants were instructed to look at the world through the eyes of a minority group member and walk in their shoes2. It was found that this intervention decreased prejudice toward the target group3, which is due to an increased self-other overlap. However, there is also research showing that perspective-taking can produce backlash effects such that prejudice increases rather than decreases4.

We investigated a different research question. That is, do all people who are instructed to take the perspective of a minority group member comply with the instruction? If not, who are these people? In order to answer this question, we concentrated on how people identify with their nation (here, Australia). This is because previous research has shown that there are qualitative differences between modes of national identification5, which may forecast whether people will comply with the instruction to take the perspective of a minority group member.

Specifically, we differentiated between two modes of identification: glorification and attachment. When people glorify their nation, they are unconditionally devoted to their country, their national symbols, policies, and safety. As a consequence, those who glorify their nation decline criticism about the governmental policies because they believe that their nation is superior. Accordingly, they are prejudiced toward people who are perceived to be different, such as minority groups. Conversely, attached identification involves an effective dedication and commitment to the nation but also a critical attitude toward those who behave immorally against minority groups. In that case, attached identifiers want to support such groups. In short, whereas glorification is associated with the exclusion of minority groups, attachment is associated with inclusion. 

In our research6, glorifying and attached identifiers were asked to take the perspective of an asylum seeker, or to remain objective, or they received no instruction when reading about an asylum seeker in Papua New Guinea. Asylum seekers are often portrayed in the global and national media7 as a threat to national security. As glorification is associated with an increased focused on national security, we expected that glorifiers would feel threatened by asylum seekers who wanted to enter Australia. Moreover, a realistic threat can increase prejudice8.

Accordingly, we expected that ingroup glorification would be associated with greater threat and (therefore) amplified prejudice toward asylum seekers. If threat and prejudice are intensified, we hypothesized that glorifiers would resist complying with the perspective-taking instruction because this instruction implies a threat to the self due to an increased self-other overlap with asylum seekers. Conversely, as attachment is associated with greater inclusion of minority group members, attached identifiers would engage in perspective taking.

Thus, asking people who glorify their group to take the perspective of a person who is perceived as a threat to self may enhance reactance that leads to non-compliance with the instruction. Reactance9 occurs when one’s behavioral freedom is jeopardized10. When behavioral freedom (that is, the right to do, think, or say what one wishes) is perceived to be threatened, people often respond with hostile behavior or resistance or they want to re-establish their threatened freedom through counter-behavior. 

We found support for our hypotheses. The more one glorifies one’s national group, the more one perceives asylum seekers as being a threat to the nation, the greater the prejudice toward asylum seekers, the more one shows reactance against the perspective-taking instructions, and the greater is non-compliance with the instructions. Such non-compliance by glorifiers was manifested in taking their own perspective. Surprisingly, when no instructions were specified, about 40% of the glorifiers voluntarily took the perspective of an asylum seeker. In both studies, the opposite pattern of findings was found for attached identifiers. The more people feel attached to their nation, the less they perceive asylum seekers as being a threat to their nation, the less their prejudice and reactance against the perspective-taking instructions, and the greater is their compliance with the instructions. 

The current research adds to a small but growing literature showing the effects of perspective-taking are not uniformly positive and may help to explain the inconsistent effects of perspective taking. That is, different types of national identification may further qualify previous findings showing that high identifiers’ engagement in perspective taking resulted in backfiring11,12. It is important to emphasize that such increased prejudice results from compliance with the instructions, whereas reactance against the perspective-taking instructions results from perceived threat and prejudice, leading to non-compliance with the instructions.

A practical implication of our research is that requests for public support aiming at humanitarian aid to refugees and asylum seekers might take into account the two different audiences (glorifying and attached national identifiers) when developing their strategies. That is, asking glorifying identifiers to take the perspective of minority group members may increase prejudice rather than decrease it, as we have shown here.

These findings are described in the article entitled Resisting perspective-taking: Glorification of the national group elicits non-compliance with perspective-taking instructions, recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. This work was conducted by Mariëtte Berndsen from Flinders University, Emma F. Thomas from Flinders University and Murdoch University, and Anne Pedersen from Curtin University and Murdoch University.


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