Laboratory experiments have shown that taking the perspective of members of outgroups helps change attitudes and reduce prejudice. For example, engaging in perspective-taking exercises about outgroup members can durably reduce prejudice against the outgroup. However, few field studies have been conducted to test this theory outside laboratory settings.
In Miami, Florida, an experiment was carried out to test the impact of perspective-taking on voter attitudes towards the transgender community. After nondiscrimination legislation protecting transgender rights had passed in Miami, a backlash of transphobia occurred. In response, two local organizations conducted a perspective-taking intervention by going door-to-door and speaking with voters. Canvassers, some of whom were transgender themselves, had 10-minute conversations with voters discussing their views about the recent legislation. The volunteers actively listened to voters’ views and then asked them to share a story about a time when they were treated unfairly simply for being perceived as being different from others. The voters were also asked to imagine themselves in
situations similar to those faced currently by members of the transgender community. Findings from the study showed that voters who engaged in the perspective-taking conversations had significantly more positive attitudes towards transgender people than those who had not received the intervention. The effect was found to last for at least 3 months.
The results of this study speak to the combined power of listening and perspective taking for reducing outgroup discrimination. Deep canvassing, or the process of political activism that requires having more patience with voters, asking them to reflect on their own life, and listening carefully so they feel heard and respected, has become an increasingly common method in political campaigning. If more active processing of the experiences of outgroups helps to reduce prejudice sustainably, activists and conflict resolution practitioners should consider integrating the use of these methods more intentionally in their methods to help address political divisions.
Broockman D, Kalla J (2016). Durably reducing transphobia: A field experiment on door-to-door canvassing. Science, 352(6282), 220–224.