Perspective taking can promote short-term inclusionary behavior toward Syrian refugees

Claire L. Adida, Adeline Lo, Melina R. Platas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social scientists have shown how easily individuals are moved to exclude outgroup members. Can we foster inclusion instead? This study leverages one of the most significant humanitarian crises of our time to test whether, and under what conditions, American citizens adopt more inclusionary behavior toward Syrian refugees. We conduct a nationally representative survey of over 5,000 American citizens in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election and experimentally test whether a perspective-taking exercise increases inclusionary behavior in the form of an anonymous letter supportive of refugees to be sent to the 45th President of the United States. Our results indicate that the perspective-taking message increases the likelihood of writing such a positive letter by two to five percentage points. By contrast, an informational message had no significant effect on letter writing. The effect of the perspective-taking exercise occurs in the short run only, manifests as a behavioral rather than an attitudinal response, and is strongest among Democrats. However, this effect also appears in the subset of Republican respondents, suggesting that efforts to promote perspective taking may move to action a wide cross-section of individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9521-9526
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 18 2018


  • Empathy
  • Exclusion
  • Immigration
  • Perspective taking
  • Refugees

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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