When the three methods produce competing perspectives, decenterers are faced with a dilemma as to which analysis to accept. The three methods can actually interfere with each other and diminish the quality of all the methods. For example, role-taking research with children suggests that children must learn to control the impact of the highly accessible and salient information on self when considering another person’s perspective (Higgins, 1981). A tendency to be egocentric in applying the use of self method of social decentering can undermine the use of the other two methods. Dunning and Hayes (1996) found participants to be egocentric in their social judgments about others, most frequently using themselves as the source of comparison, followed by the use of acquaintances, population norms, and then people similar to the target. Epley and Caruso (2009) observed that using the most immediate and easily accessible information provided by an individual’s own perspective and experiences (use of self method of social decentering) undermines efforts to engage in considering another person’s perspective (use of specific-other).
Social decentering is defined as a multidimensional social cognitive process that involves taking into account another person’s feelings, thoughts, perspectives, and other dispositions in a given situation. Working from that conceptualization, the first steps in this theory and model are presented in this chapter. Specifically, the activation step reflects the factors that contribute to initiating people’s efforts to socially decenter. Activation is spurred by both internal triggers that arise from a given person’s own cognitive processing and by external triggers that stimulate social decentering. The next step involves input or information that is drawn from experiences and observations as well as from imagination. The third step discussed in this chapter is about the three methods used to analyze the information: use of self, use of specific-other, and use of generalized-other. When applying use of self, individuals use their own related experiences in a given situation or imagine their reactions to a given situation, and use the resulting analysis to decenter with others. Use of specific-other is the propensity to think about specific people the decenterer knows and apply that knowledge, observations, or imaginings to understanding the other. Finally, just as we have implicit personality theories that are applied to categories of people, the use of generalized- others involves utilizing our general understanding of people or groups of people as the foundation for analyzing a given person in a given situation.
The next chapter provides the final two components in the social decentering process: internal cognitive and affective responses and then, potentially, external responses in the form of strategy and actions. The external responses are not really part of the social decentering process, but instead reflect ways in which people might act upon the results of their social decentering. Thus, after considering a friend’s dispositions upon having his or her romantic relationship come to an end, an individual has lots of options for how to act, options which can be analyzed through social decentering, but which are dependent upon additional interpersonal skills.
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