Empathic merging of selves: Perspective taking and self-other overlap

Sean M. Laurent, Michael W. Myers

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


When people think of -empathy," they usually think of the way that one person cares about the welfare of another. Related to this, empathy can also mean feeling joy when the target of empathy succeeds or sorrow when the target faces misfortune - in effect, -feeling what the other feels." While these forms of -affective" empathy are important, empathy has also been operationalized in other ways. For example, some researchers consider empathy to be the act of trying to understand another's thoughts, feelings, or motives (i.e., perspective taking). Although one widely-researched area of interest is how perspective taking - or -cognitive" empathy - can lead to empathic concern (i.e., affective empathy), many researchers are now focusing on how perspective taking leads to perceiver-target overlap (or merging), and how overlap in turn affects consequent behaviors such as helping a target in need or lessening a perceiver's stereotypic beliefs about the target's group. Although theoretical accounts of perceiver-target overlap have been proposed, only limited evidence has thus far been provided, as well as conflicting claims from different researchers. This chapter will review the research to date that has examined perspective taking and perceiver-target overlap, and will address methodological and conceptual issues in the way overlap is measured by discussing data collected to help explain conflicting claims in the literature. We will also present data that support the claim that the self becomes more like the other after perspective taking. Last, we will discuss some of the implications of perspective taking and self-other overlap, pointing to future directions for research in this domain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPsychology of Empathy
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages31
ISBN (Print)9781612097947
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology
  • General Social Sciences


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