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Empathy, Deservingness, and Preferences for Welfare Assistance: A Large-Scale Online Perspective-Taking Experiment

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  • Alexander Bor
  • ,
  • Gábor Simonovits, Central European University, Rajk College for Advanced Studies

Online perspective-taking experiments have demonstrated great potential in reducing prejudice towards disadvantaged groups such as refugees or Roma. These experiments trigger the psychological process of empathy and evoke feelings of compassion. Meanwhile, a growing literature argues that compassion towards the poor is an important predictor of support for social welfare. This paper bridges these two literatures and predicts that perspective-taking with the poor could increase support for welfare assistance. This hypothesis is tested in a pre-registered experiment conducted on a large and diverse online sample of US citizens (N = 3,431). Our results suggest that participants engaged with the perspective-taking exercise, wrote essays expressing strong emotions, but perspective-taking had no meaningful causal effect on general attitudes towards social welfare. We can confidently rule out effects exceeding 2 points on a 100-point scale. These results indicate that perspective-taking with a poor, deserving individual does not necessarily reduce stereotypes about the poor in general; nor does it change views towards redistributive policies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Behavior
Pages (from-to)1247-1264
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.

    Research areas

  • Deservingness, Empathy, Perspective-taking, Redistribution, Welfare attitudes

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