Self-perception theory posits that people sometimes infer their own attributes by observing their freely chosen actions. The authors hypothesized that in addition, people sometimes infer their own attributes by observing the freely chosen actions of others with whom they feel a sense of merged identity--almost as if they had observed themselves performing the acts. Before observing an actor's behavior, participants were led to feel a sense of merged identity with the actor through perspective-taking instructions (Study 1) or through feedback indicating that their brainwave patterns overlapped substantially with those of the actor (Studies 2-4). As predicted, participants incorporated attributes relevant to an actor's behavior into their own self-concepts, but only when they were led to feel a sense of merged identity with the actor and only when the actor's behavior seemed freely chosen. These changes in relevant self-perceptions led participants to change their own behaviors accordingly. Implications of these vicarious self-perception processes for conformity, perspective-taking, and the long-term development of the self-concept are discussed.
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