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Helpful Only in the Abstract?: Ironic Effects of Empathy in Intergroup Interaction

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ABSTRACT

This study tested the hypothesis that empathizing with out-group members is beneficial outside of, but not within, intergroup-contact situations. We predicted that in the context of intergroup interaction, the potential for evaluation would lead individuals' perspective-taking efforts to take on an egocentric and counterproductive flavor. As predicted, when empathy was instantiated during an intergroup exchange, it failed to exert its usual positive effect on intergroup attitudes and led higher-prejudice individuals to derogate an out-group member who was an interaction partner; empathy also blocked the prejudice-reducing influence of intergroup contact. Mediation analyses indicated that activation of negative metastereotypes regarding the out-group's view of the in-group accounted for these effects. The findings, which demonstrate ironic effects of empathy in intergroup interaction, indicate that interventions based on studies of individuals' reactions to out-group members in the abstract might have dramatically different consequences when put into practice in real exchanges between members of different groups.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Manitoba

Publication date: 2009-02-01

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