The effects of control motivation on perspective taking



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Texas Tech University


While there has been ample research into the consequences of empathic perspective taking, little research has investigated its antecedents. The current research sought to examine the influence of induced (Study 1) and chronic (Study 2) control motivation on effort expenditure during a perspective taking task. Control motivation is created by situations in which individuals feel deprived of control, or lack a sense of contingency between their actions and outcomes, and past research has linked it to increased information-seeking behavior. To the extent that perspective taking is an information-seeking activity, control motivation was expected to have a similar influence in this set of studies.

In Study 1, control deprivation was manipulated by providing participants non-contingent feedback about their performance on a concept formation task. Study 2 looked at depressed (chronically control deprived) individuals. In both studies, role playing was manipulated by simulating a dyslexic individual’s perception of a piece of writing (i.e., text with commonly switched letters). Therefore, the combined influence of ability and motivation on participants’ behavior was assessed. The perspective taking task involved listing ways in which dyslexia might affect a target individual’s everyday life.

Results for Study 1 showed that role players (vs. non-role players) produced some increased effort expenditure on the perspective taking task. There also was evidence of the combined effect of ability and motivation as control deprived role players produced more thoughts and spent more time on the perspective taking task. Results for Study 2 indicated no significant influence of depression (chronic control motivation) and some support for the influence of role playing on perspective taking. Scores on the CES-D indicative of depression were related to increased negative affect and feelings of uncertainty.

These results did not lend support for an effect of control motivation, induced or chronic, on increased perspective taking effort. Interestingly, the most notable effect was a decrease in the number of emotion-related thoughts produced by those who were deprived of control. There was some evidence that manipulation of ability (role playing) did influence effort during the perspective taking task, especially when combined with the effects of control deprivation. There also was evidence of interesting effects of experiences with dyslexia on participants’ responses to various tasks in both studies. This research is significant as two of the few studies that explore the motivation to perspective take.