Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ramkumar Ranganathan: Influence of Multiple Perspectives Taking on Nested Identities of the Self


From the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), this is an interesting article on the ways perspective taking can help "blur the line between self and other."

There is an Advaita Vedanta flavor to this piece, but there is also a recognition and inclusion of postmodern ideas of multiplicity of the self.

Ranganathan begins with a Hindu verse that . . .
suggests that if the distinction between the self and others as perceived by the mind of a focal individual can be reduced then such a person will be able to increasingly identify with a global society or family. Interestingly, current findings in psychological research have unearthed that the simple act of taking another person’s perspective (i.e., seeing things from his or her point of view) can lead to a blurring between conceptualization of the self and the other in the mind of the perspective taker (Davis, Conklin, Smith & Luce, 1996; Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000; Oswald, 1996; Parker & Axtell, 2001). 
This is definitely worth the read - and no familiarity with Vedanta is necessary.

Influence of Multiple Perspectives Taking on Nested Identities of the Self


Ramkumar Ranganathan

Indian Institute of Management (IIMB), Bangalore
July 30, 2013

IIM Bangalore Research Paper No. 418

Abstract: 
 
In this paper I take cues from an ancient Indian verse that advocates an ideal of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (meaning global family), and link the mechanism of blurring the distinction between self and other that is suggested in the verse to the more recent and western psychological construct of ‘perspective taking’. Putting the two together I outline a process by which multiple rounds of perspective taking can be used to strengthen increasingly higher levels of identification and ultimately creating a perception of belonging to a global family. I propose four testable hypotheses that emerge from the arguments I lay out.

Full Citation:
Ranganathan, R. (July 30, 2013). Influence of Multiple Perspectives Taking on Nested Identities of the Self. IIM Bangalore Research Paper No. 418. Available at SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2303683 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2303683

Introduction: Taking cues from an Indian Philosophical Verse

Ayam nijah paro veti, Gananaa laghu-chetasaam, 
Udaara-charitaanaam tu, Vasudhaiva kutumbakam” 
-Hitopadesha (1.3.71)

The spirit underlying the term ‘globalization’, has been crisply captured by Albrow (1990:9), as “all those processes by which the people of the world are incorporated into a single world society, global society”. Such an ideal of one global world society is not a new concept however. An ancient Indian verse speaks of a similar ideal: ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (translated from Sanskrit as "vasudha", the earth; "eva" = emphasizer and "kutumbakam", "family") meaning ‘the whole world is one single family’. 
The verse where this ideal of a global family is advocated is found in the Hitopdesha (1.3.71) [1] and is translated as, “This is 'one's own', this is an 'other', such is the count in petty minds; to those of grand minds, the whole earth is family”. This verse suggests that drawing boundaries between the self and other is what keeps humankind from the possibility of cognitively experiencing the whole world as a global family. It suggests that if the distinction between the self and others as perceived by the mind of a focal individual can be reduced then such a person will be able to increasingly identify with a global society or family. Interestingly, current findings in psychological research have unearthed that the simple act of taking another person’s perspective (ie seeing things from his or her point of view) can lead to a blurring between conceptualization of the self and the other in the mind of the perspective taker (Davis, Conklin, Smith & Luce, 1996; Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000; Oswald, 1996; Parker & Axtell, 2001). In this paper I combine the insight from the ancient Sanskrit verse on the idea of a global family and the recent psychological findings on perspective taking and propose a model outlining how perspective taking can be used as a tool to achieve increasingly higher levels of identification such that the ideal of perceiving the entire world as one’s own family becomes a feasible possibility.

A clarification that needs to be made regarding this paper is that for the purpose of theory building, I only draw upon the psychological findings that have been published in peer reviewed academic journals. However, the above mentioned verse from the Hitopadesha was the one which inspired me to explore the possibility of a linkage between perspective taking and group or category level identification. Further, not only did the verse suggest a linkage between the dependant and independent variables, it also provided cues regarding the process through which perspective taking could influence a group or category level identification. The first part of the verse, ‘ayam nijah paro veti’ (this is ‘ones’s own’, this is an ‘other’) is related to the perspective with which someone else is being viewed. The western concept of perspective taking is most simply translated as taking the perspective of another person (ie: viewing the world from their standpoint, so what is the ‘other’s’, is now seen as one’s own). According to the existing literature on perspective taking, this activity has been found to lead to a merging between the self and the other in a person’s mind. It is this merging that seems very reflective of what is being suggested by the first part of the verse (ayam nijah, paro veti). The last part of the verse talks about ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’, which is indicative of an idea of a global identity. Therefore this verse gave me the inspiration to try and bring together these two different streams of literature (perspective taking, and identity), and try and explore if manipulations in one construct (perspective taking) can be linked to changes in the second (identity).

Another clarification that is due at the start is that I do not take a prescriptive stance with regard to this highest level of identification with the entire world. Instead I describe in a non-normative way, how a self concept of belonging to a global family can be achieved through multiple rounds of perspective taking. In a later section I also discuss why doing this can have both advantages and disadvantages and caution managers and practitioners who might want to adopt perspective taking activities to enhance identification at group levels to do it only after deliberation of the possible pros and cons. My aim in this paper is to present a model outlining the mechanisms through which perspective taking activities can influence a person’s levels of identification. I also propose four testable hypotheses that emerge from the model, and suggest methods through which these constructs can be operationalized and the hypotheses tested in experimental and applied settings.

Multiple levels of identification

There is a large body of literature on the topic of identity in both the sociological field as well as the social psychology field (Brown & Starkey, 2000a; Hogg & Terry, 2000b; Pratt & Foreman, 2000a; Pratt & Foreman, 2000b; Stuart & Ashforth, 2000). Identity is sometimes defined at the individual level and at other times at the group, organizational, or national level. Within the individual level the term is sometimes used to denote the identity of the self by the self, and at other times it denotes the identity of the self as perceived by others. At the organizational level the term can refer to the identity of the organization as perceived by its members (in a collective way), as perceived by one particular member, or as perceived by outsiders. However there is yet another conceptualization of identity, where the individual person identifies with a group or organization to varying degrees and this is the construct of identity that I use in this paper. This construct of identity resides in an individual and is the same as what is also sometimes referred to as an individual’s self-concept. In such a conceptualization of identity, the focal person is theorized to have multiple identities corresponding to various levels of association (family, workgroup, nation, organization etc.), and the audience of the identity is the same as the person in whom the identity is residing. This conceptualization of identity therefore is not concerned with constructs like image or reputation which are related to the way other people perceive the focal person.

A foundational assumption in my theorizing is that there are multiple identities of the self existing within a person’s cognition and that each of these identities correspond to different groups the person belongs to. This assumption is in line with self categorization theory, social identity theory, and other existing literature where both psychologists and sociologists have argued for the existence of multiple identities within the same individual (Pratt and Foreman, 2000 a, cf. Burke, 1937; Feldman, 1979; James, 1890; Markus & Nurius, 1986; McCall & Simmons, 1978; Stryker & Serpe, 1982; Tajfel & Turner, 1979). In fact way back Mead (1934) suggested that a "parliament of selves" exists within each person. More recently, Pratt and Foreman (2000b), have concluded in their review of identity literature that there is a consensus among various theories regarding the existence of multiple and potentially competing identities of the self.

While there is a consensus in the literature about the existence of multiple identities of the self which relate to the various social categories that the focal person is a part of, researchers have differed in the way they conceptualize social identity. Scholars have sometimes treated social identities as components of ones self-schema or self-concept which are activated by situational cues. (Markus & Kunda, 1986; Markus & Nurius, 1986 ). Under this conceptualization, social identities that are frequently activated will become prevalent in the person’s cognition. A second conceptualization of social identity stems from the self-categorization theory (Turner et al, 1987) where identification is a result of the relative fits of social categories within the person’s frame of reference. Here, social identity is considered to be a dynamic, flexible, and online process of self-categorization. The self-categorization conceptualization differs from the self-schema theory because it rejects the notion that social identities are pre-formed structures of the self. Therefore, while the self-schema theory is based on the understanding that there are pre-formed cognitive structures which are activated by situational cues, in the self-categorization theory the content and meaning of the categories are not determined beforehand but constructed online in response to changing contexts. Both these theories however support the notion that once people start to identify with their group they form prototypes of the group (a mechanism of de-personalization) that becomes a component of their own self concept. The focal person forms a cognitive boundary in his mind that separates this particular group from the rest of the universe.

In this paper I do not question the initial process by which an individual begins to identify with a particular group but focus on how perspective-taking activities impact the strength of group level identification (when a certain level of identification already exists). I discuss possible mechanisms at play when the focal person already has a pre-existing mental map with cognitive boundaries defining the groups to which he or she belongs.

Perspective taking

Perspective taking, which is taking another person’s viewpoint, has been studied in terms of the effects it produces in the cognitive frames of the persons who take other’s perspectives, and has been found to lead to a merging of the self and the other (Davis et al., 1996; Galinsky et al., 2000; Oswald, 1996). Perspective taking creates a self-other overlap in which the boundaries between the self and the other gets blurred and there occurs a cross attribution of characteristics such that characteristics previously attributed to the self begin to be attributed to the other and vice versa (Parker and Axtell, 2001; Aron et al., 1991; Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000). This has been argued to occur because the person’s two cognitive structures which represented the self and the other begin to share more common elements (Davis et al.,1996; Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000). It has also been found that the mental processes associated with perspective taking cause an observer’s thoughts and feelings about a target to become more self-like, and that perspective taking exercises cause the focal person to perceive the other (whose perspective he takes) to be more similar to himself (Cialdini et al,1997; Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000).

Within the literature of perspective taking there appears to be two streams by which perspective taking can cause an observer to start associating himself or herself more with the target whose perspective is being taken. The first stream focuses on the effect that perspective taking has on the observers thoughts regarding the target while the second focuses more on the observers feelings towards the target. The first stream looks at only the cognitive effects of perspective taking which makes sense because perspective taking has been conceptualized as a purely cognitive construct where the world is considered from another individuals viewpoint (Davis, 1983). For example in the context of negotiations Bazerman and Neale (1983) argue that perspective taking can be done as a purely strategic exercise to gain insights into the opponents thinking. Other studies that explore the purely cognitive effects of perspective taking have shown the cognitive effects of perspective taking to overcome cognitive barriers like anchoring effects (Galinsky and Mussweiler, 2001), self serving bias (Drolet, Larrik, & Morris, 1998). Perspective taking has also been shown to improve the observers cognitive abilities to think in more integrative ways about the problem and find win-win solutions (Galinsky, Maddux, Gilin, & White, 2008; Pruitt & Carnevale, 1993). The second stream looks at the effects of perspective taking on the observers feelings towards the target. Although perspective taking is a purely cognitive activity it influences the observers feelings by triggering the emotion of empathy (Batson, 1995). Empathy is defined as “other-oriented feelings congruent with the perceived welfare of another individual” (Batson et al., 1995, p. 621). In this stream of research empathy is considered to be the mediating variable through which perspective taking can trigger altruism and other emotional states in the observer (Batson & Moran, 1999; Batson and Ahmad, 2001).

In this paper, I draw primarily from the cognitive stream of literature on perspective taking to explore the effects of the self-other overlap in the cognitive constructs related to the self and the other that are present in the observers mind. Empathy towards the other may arise as a consequence of such perspective taking but since the outcome variable in this paper is also the cognitive construct of identity, we will not be looking at these effects of empathy or any other emotional variables.
Read the whole article (download as a PDF).
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