Why it pays to get inside the head of your opponent: the differential effects of perspective taking and empathy in negotiations

Psychol Sci. 2008 Apr;19(4):378-84. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02096.x.


The current research explored whether two related yet distinct social competencies -- perspective taking (the cognitive capacity to consider the world from another individual's viewpoint) and empathy (the ability to connect emotionally with another individual) -- have differential effects in negotiations. Across three studies, using both individual difference measures and experimental manipulations, we found that perspective taking increased individuals' ability to discover hidden agreements and to both create and claim resources at the bargaining table. However, empathy did not prove nearly as advantageous and at times was detrimental to discovering a possible deal and achieving individual profit. These results held regardless of whether the interaction was a negotiation in which a prima facie solution was not possible or a multiple-issue negotiation that required discovering mutually beneficial trade-offs. Although empathy is an essential tool in many aspects of social life, perspective taking appears to be a particularly critical ability in negotiations.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition*
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Negotiating*
  • Social Perception*