Changing beliefs and behavior through experience-taking

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2012 Jul;103(1):1-19. doi: 10.1037/a0027525. Epub 2012 Mar 26.


The present research introduces the concept of experience-taking-the imaginative process of spontaneously assuming the identity of a character in a narrative and simulating that character's thoughts, emotions, behaviors, goals, and traits as if they were one's own. Six studies investigated the degree to which particular psychological states and features of narratives cause individuals, without instruction, to engage in experience-taking and investigated how the merger between self and other that occurs during experience-taking produces changes in self-judgments, attitudes, and behavior that align with the character's. Results from Studies 1-3 showed that being in a reduced state of self-concept accessibility while reading a brief fictional work increased-and being in a heightened state of self-concept accessibility decreased-participants' levels of experience-taking and subsequent incorporation of a character's personality trait into their self-concepts. Study 4 revealed that a first-person narrative depicting an ingroup character elicited the highest levels of experience-taking and produced the greatest change in participants' behavior, compared with versions of the narrative written in 3rd-person voice and/or depicting an outgroup protagonist. The final 2 studies demonstrated that whereas revealing a character's outgroup membership as a homosexual or African American early in a narrative inhibited experience-taking, delaying the revelation of the character's outgroup identity until later in the story produced higher levels of experience-taking, lower levels of stereotype application in participants' evaluation of the character, and more favorable attitudes toward the character's group. The implications of these findings in relation to perspective-taking, self-other overlap, and prime-to-behavior effects are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attitude
  • Cues
  • Culture*
  • Ego
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination*
  • Judgment
  • Literature, Modern
  • Male
  • Personality
  • Prejudice
  • Self Concept
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stereotyping
  • Students / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult