The Vicarious Construal Effect: Seeing and Experiencing the World Through Different Eyes
Presenter: Clayton Critcher, Associate Professor, Haas School of Business
5101 Tolman Hall
That two individuals can be exposed to the same stimulus and experience it differently speaks to the power of construal. People’s construals are shaped by their idiosyncratic attitudes, belief systems, and personal histories. As a result, simple delights for children often become uninspiring bores for adults. In this talk, I consider whether people can actively try on construals and experience stimuli as if through others’ eyes, what I call the vicarious construal effect. Although previous research has demonstrated that people can have empathic responses—catching the emotions that someone else is experiencing (e.g. mimicking a smile) or experiencing a stimulus one knows another is being exposed to (e.g., wincing as one watches someone be physically victimized)—I consider whether people’s own experience of a stimulus changes as they consider how someone else would see the same stimulus. In so doing, I demonstrate how people can both recover seemingly lost construals (e.g., by stalling or reversing habituation) and adopt foreign construals they would not have ordinarily appreciated. Furthermore, given people’s blindness to the power of construal in defining their experiences, participants exposed to such interventions believed they had learned something new about their underlying preferences (“I never realized how much I enjoy anime films!”), not something about the power of the manipulations. The research helps explain why social experiences often differ from solo ones, illustrates a technique that can be used to breathe new life into old experience, and demonstrates how people can seemingly learn about themselves by trying to understand others.