This summary is presented by the IPR Behavioral Insights Research Center
- Self-persuasion is effective for changing attitudes, like opinions about political policy. Thinking of arguments that oppose their own views can shift people away from their previous beliefs.
- Trying to put yourself in the perspective of someone with opposing views before thinking of counter-attitudinal arguments can reduce attitude change. The arguments generate appeal to different values from one’s own and are therefore less persuasive.
- Perspective taking can enhance self-persuasion, but only if the perspective has similar values despite opposing attitude towards an issue. Arguments generated this way are remain congruent with one’s values and are less threatening.
Implications for Public Relations
Self-persuasion is an effective communication strategy that gets people to think of arguments to change their own attitudes. Public relations professionals should be careful when incorporating perspective taking because it can reduce the effect of self-persuasion. If people try to come up with arguments from the perspective of someone with opposing values, the arguments are less acceptable because they don’t align with their own values.
Encouraging people to look at an issue from another person’s perspective may seem like a useful strategy for changing attitudes, but research suggests it actually hinders the effects of self-persuasion. Public relations professionals should consider having audiences generate arguments for an opposing attitude themselves, instead of presenting arguments directly because people are generally more receptive to their own thoughts. They will often think of arguments that are more compelling to them and fit into their mental framework or perspective.
However, communicators should exercise caution around encouraging perspective taking within a self-persuasion strategy. Taking on the perspective of someone with conflicting values, like opposing political identity, leads to self-generated arguments that are incongruent with one’s own perspective and values. Those arguments are likely dismissed because they do not reflect one’s value. Perspective taking can enhance self-persuasion only if the perspective is of someone who shares similar values, despite having a different view about an issue.
Having people come up with their own arguments for shifting their attitudes can often be more effective than presenting arguments to them. The self-generation of arguments, also known as self-persuasion, has been shown to help reduce polarization by motivating people to adopt more moderate perspectives. Catapano and colleagues examined how perspective taking interacts with self-persuasion. Perspective taking is a common strategy to encourage people to see arguments from the opposing viewpoint.
They found that perspective taking did not make people more receptive to self-generated arguments. In fact, those who tried to take on an opposing perspective were less likely to shift their attitudes that those who thought of arguments without taking another perspective.
In the first of two studies, participants were asked to think of arguments about a policy that countered their own beliefs. Participants that were instructed to first assume the identity of someone that would oppose their beliefs before coming up with arguments were less receptive to their arguments and shifted their attitudes less than those who did not take another perspective. These findings showed that perspective-taking can inhibit the effectiveness of self-persuasion.
In a follow-up study, the authors added an additional factor to the perspective taking. Participants took on the perspective of someone with the same political ideology and therefore similar values, or someone with an opposing political background. When people generated arguments against their view on a policy, but from the perspective of someone that shared their values, the perspective taking led to greater attitude change, suggest that the congruence of values is critical for the success of perspective taking in self-persuasion.
When generating arguments from a perspective with different values, people think of arguments that appeal to those values instead of their own. As a result, people are less receptive to them. However, when taking the perspective of someone with similar values, but a different attitude towards an issue, self-generated arguments for that attitude remain in line with their values and are therefore more acceptable.
The findings from these studies demonstrate the effectiveness of self-persuasion for shifting attitudes. They also highlight the role of perspective taking, particular the potential to inhibit the impact of self-persuasion.
Catapano, R., Tormala, Z. L., & Rucker, D. D. (2019). Perspective taking and self-persuasion: why” putting yourself in their shoes” reduces openness to attitude change. Psychological Science. 30(3): 424-435 https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797618822697