This paper tests whether a perspective-taking exercise can increase the likelihood that American citizens adopt more inclusionary behavior toward Syrian refugees in the United States.
The analysis draws on the findings of a nationally representative survey of 5,400 American citizens just prior to the 2016 presidential election. Respondents were randomly assigned to one of three groups: (1) perspective taking; (2) information; and (3) control. The perspective taking group were asked to answer a short set of questions while imagining themselves as a refugee. The second group was provided with information about the US commitment to resettling Syrian refugees and the low number of Syrian refugees the United States has committed to resettle. All respondents were asked if they would be willing to write an anonymous letter to the President expressing support for refugees and given the opportunity to do so. Some respondents in each group were randomly assigned to answer the question about letter writing a week after the initial part of the survey to test the durability of the results.
- The perspective-taking exercise increased the likelihood of writing a letter supportive of refugees, while the informational message had no significant effect on letter writing.
- The effect of the perspective-taking exercise occurred in the short run only, manifested as a behavioral rather than an attitudinal response, and was strongest among Democrats (but also observable among Republicans).
The authors conclude that perspective taking exercises can prod individuals, who already have inclusionary attitudes, to act on that preference in the short term, but are not effective in changing attitudes.