When Empathy Backfires: How (Not) to Engender Warmth and Respect for Minorities
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The popular expression “walk in another person’s shoes before you judge them” implies that we must take the perspective of others to fully understand their emotions and experiences. Prejudice-reduction interventions have harnessed people’s abilities to empathize with others to reduce stereotyping and improve attitudes towards outgroup members, effectively creating feelings of warmth towards people who face negative stereotypes. I present evidence, however, suggesting that inducing empathy with perspective-taking can backfire by undermining perceptions of competence. Perspective-taking that focuses solely on the disadvantages of a Black individual leads majority group members (White individuals) to report pity and decreased respect for the minority target (Studies 1-3). These feelings are reflected in Whites’ behaviour, such as asking fewer questions during a job interview that would allow the Black individual to fully demonstrate his abilities and competence (Study 3), which might very well undermine actual success. This research investigates methods for reducing prejudice in majority group members that increase respect for members of negatively stereotyped groups—without the hidden cost of increasing pity—by creating identity safe environments in which individuals are treated with both warmth and respect.