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31.10.2017 | Ausgabe 4/2017 Open Access

Social Justice Research 4/2017

Putting Ourselves in Another’s Skin: Using the Plasticity of Self-Perception to Enhance Empathy and Decrease Prejudice

Zeitschrift:
Social Justice Research > Ausgabe 4/2017
Autoren:
Harry Farmer, Lara Maister

Abstract

The self is one the most important concepts in social cognition and plays a crucial role in determining questions such as which social groups we view ourselves as belonging to and how we relate to others. In the past decade, the self has also become an important topic within cognitive neuroscience with an explosion in the number of studies seeking to understand how different aspects of the self are represented within the brain. In this paper, we first outline the recent research on the neurocognitive basis of the self and highlight a key distinction between two forms of self-representation. The first is the “bodily” self, which is thought to be the basis of subjective experience and is grounded in the processing of sensorimotor signals. The second is the “conceptual” self, which develops through our interactions of other and is formed of a rich network of associative and semantic information. We then investigate how both the bodily and conceptual self are related to social cognition with an emphasis on how self-representations are involved in the processing and creation of prejudice. We then highlight new research demonstrating that the bodily and conceptual self are both malleable and that this malleability can be harnessed in order to achieve a reduction in social prejudice. In particular, we will outline strong evidence that modulating people’s perceptions of the bodily self can lead to changes in attitudes at the conceptual level. We will highlight a series of studies demonstrating that social attitudes towards various social out-groups (e.g. racial groups) can lead to a reduction in prejudice towards that group. Finally, we seek to place these findings in a broader social context by considering how innovations in virtual reality technology can allow experiences of taking on another’s identity are likely to become both more commonplace and more convincing in the future and the various opportunities and risks associated with using such technology to reduce prejudice.

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