Self-distancing improves interpersonal perceptions and behavior by decreasing medial prefrontal cortex activity during the provision of criticism

Jordan B. Leitner*, Ozlem Ayduk, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, Adam Magerman, Rachel Amey, Ethan Kross, Chad E. Forbes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Previous research suggests that people show increased self-referential processing when they provide criticism to others, and that this self-referential processing can have negative effects on interpersonal perceptions and behavior. The current research hypothesized that adopting a self-distanced perspective (i.e. thinking about a situation from a non-first person point of view), as compared with a typical self-immersed perspective (i.e. thinking about a situation from a first-person point of view), would reduce self-referential processing during the provision of criticism, and in turn improve interpersonal perceptions and behavior. We tested this hypothesis in an interracial context since research suggests that self-referential processing plays a role in damaging interracial relations. White participants prepared for mentorship from a self-immersed or self-distanced perspective. They then conveyed negative and positive evaluations to a Black mentee while electroencephalogram(EEG) was recorded. Source analysis revealed that priming a self-distanced (vs self-immersed) perspective predicted decreased activity in regions linked to self-referential processing (medial prefrontal cortex; MPFC) when providing negative evaluations. This decreased MPFC activity during negative evaluations, in turn, predicted verbal feedback that was perceived to be more positive, warm and helpful. Results suggest that self-distancing can improve interpersonal perceptions and behavior by decreasing self-referential processing during the provision of criticism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)534-543
Number of pages10
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Volume12
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Electrophysiology
  • Intergroup dynamics
  • Mentorship
  • Prejudice
  • Racial and ethnic attitudes and relations

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