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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: February 7, 2006
Latest Update: February 7, 2006

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Illocutionary and Instrumental and Governance Discourse
This morning on transform_dom Brenda remarked that she enjoyed sharing in our discussion group. Me, too. But I've noticed that sometimes I share illocutionary discourse, where I'm just one of us and expressing my feelings and concerns about social justice and criminal justice issues as each of us is, and sometimes I revert to "teacher," and try to convince you that are ignoring research evidence and need to take that into account.

It's hard for me not to switch into an informational role, and in some ways, it is important for me to do so. That's the reason for having a moderator. Hopefully my education and practice have afforded me a much broader access to theory and research. My role as a teacher is to share that with you. And my role as a scientist is to insist that we not ignore research that may give us greater information. The problem is that all the scientific information we have is as subject as any other knowledge to perspectives and biases. So I have to practice staying open enough to remember that what I think I know may reflect my perspective more than I think it does. That's the humility of knowledge, scientific knowledge, that I'm really asking for when I ask that you recognize and not indulge in the "arrogance of knowledge."

Maybe we could use that as a reminder phrase, hmmm? How about if I put "humility of knowledge" in parentheses, and that will be a signal to all of us that I'm reminding myself and all of us that I'm thinking about how what I know about the world we live in is based on my perspective through which I must experience the world we live in? I think that would be a good practice. I could just write:

The world is round. I know that. (humility of knowledge)

Just that phrase in parentheses. And we'll read that as code that we need to remember perspective. Social psychology has shown in a large body of research that we see things filtered through ouir own perspective:

"Abstract: Group members often reason egocentrically, both when allocating responsibility for collective endeavors and when assessing the fairness of group outcomes. These self-centered judgments are reduced when participants consider their other group members individually or actively adopt their perspectives. However, reducing an egocentric focus through perspective taking may also invoke cynical theories about how others will behave, particularly in competitive contexts. Expecting more selfish behavior from other group members may result in more self-interested behavior from the perspective takers themselves. This suggests that one common approach to conflict resolution between and within groups can have unfortunate consequences on actual behavior."

From The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Perspective Taking in Groups. By Eugene M. Caruso, Nicholas Epley, and Max H. Bazerman. Harvard University. Department of Psychology.

I would suggest that taking other people's perspectives into account is complex and requires that we remember to check that we are communicating clearly. The article I've linked to above is fascinating, as it applies to our discussion group and most of our conversations in life.

"People in the midst of disagreements often fail to “see eye to eye.” When such problems with psychological vision arise, it would seem advantageous for each party to actively adopt the other person’s perspective in order to determine the best way of achieving an optimal outcome. An employer in a hiring context, for example, would seem well advised to think about an employee’s sense of worth before entering into salary negotiations. So too would a prosecuting attorney in a legal dispute seem well advised to think carefully about the defense attorney’s case before entering into a lengthy court trial. Or a spouse to consider his or her partner’s perspective before reacting negatively to a perceived insult. The problem for most social interactions, however, is that people rarely think completely about others’ perspectives and interests. As a result, much of social judgment is egocentrically biased."

From The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Perspective Taking in Groups. By Eugene M. Caruso, Nicholas Epley, and Max H. Bazerman. Harvard University. Department of Psychology. At p. 3.

Caruso et al. go on to point out how easy it is to assume self-interested, even selfish behavior on the part of the Other, whose perception we do not share:

" . . .Because people tend to focus on their own contributions or needs, they also tend to overestimate their own contributions or needs relative to others (Ross & Sicoly, 1979). As anyone who has ever been part of a group knows well, disagreements can therefore arise when members of groups seem to claim more than their fair share of resources.

One problem with this egocentrism, at least from an ethics standpoint, is not simply that people fail to see eye to eye, but that people generate cynical explanations for these perspective-taking failures. Employees, for instance, may come to believe that management is filled with greedy or self-interested administrators who only care about their bottom line. These cynical attributions—while occasionally true—are also quite caustic. Once a negative impression about another’s moral or ethical character is formed, little may be done to repair it. This may be particularly true when the impression is that such egocentric disagreements arise from deliberate self-interest or egoistic thought.

"As it happens, however, such egocentrism is a hallmark of our perceptual lives, and these biases are the product of mental operations that can occur very rapidly, without conscious awareness or intention (for a review see Epley & Caruso, 2004). This means that such egocentric perceptions of fairness, justice, or resource allocation are often not the product of deliberate or conscious attempts to engage in unethical or self-interested behavior. Because such egocentric reasoning occurs so quickly and automatically, egocentric perceptions do not feel biased or distorted. As a result, others with differing views appear misguided or mistaken. These erroneous cynical attributions made about the moral or ethical intentions of other group members have been described as the “sinister attribution error” (Kramer, 1999) – an error that can obviously increase group conflict and dissatisfaction.

Actively considering the point of view of other group members—by deliberately adopting their perspectives—might therefore seem to be a simple and efficient way to reduce these automatic egocentric biases or sinister attribution errors, thereby increasing group members’ abilities to determine fair and ethical behavior for all group members. Although this makes intuitive sense, we will suggest in this paper that the road to group cohesion is actually much more rocky and uneven than intuition might suggest. Considering the thoughts of another person might be a helpful reminder of their possible beliefs and feelings, but such perspective taking might also inadvertently highlight motives in another that run counter to one’s own. When an employer considers an employee’s sense of worth, the strong desire to maintain a tight budget might make an employee’s high salary demand appear irrational and selfish. Or when a spouse considers how his or her partner could have forgotten their 10 th wedding anniversary, the salience of the event might make it appear like yet another example of insensitivity rather than a regrettable lapse in memory—making an 11 th anniversary somewhat less likely.


From The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Perspective Taking in Groups. By Eugene M. Caruso, Nicholas Epley, and Max H. Bazerman. Harvard University. Department of Psychology. At pp. 4-5.

Now that's a very long quote, but it's all I require of our undergraduate section. Read it carefully, check your understanding with our Self Test on Perspectives and Discussion, and practice what it teaches us on transform_dom. On the other hand, I hope I've piqued your interest. I'll be delighted if you want to know more and read the article itself which is in PDF format at " You may have to activate the Adobe Reader on the computer you're using before you can access the file. And you may want to consult Instructions for Hard Copy from PDF Files.

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