Reading Between the Minds: The Use of Stereotypes in Empathic Accuracy

Karyn L. Lewis, Sara D. Hodges, Sean M. Laurent, Sanjay Srivastava, Gina Biancarosa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An ideal empathizer may attend to another person's behavior in order to understand that person, but it is also possible that accurately understanding other people involves top-down strategies. We hypothesized that perceivers draw on stereotypes to infer other people's thoughts and that stereotype use increases perceivers' accuracy. In this study, perceivers (N = 161) inferred the thoughts of multiple targets. Inferences consistent with stereotypes for the targets' group (new mothers) more accurately captured targets' thoughts, particularly when actual thought content was also stereotypic. We also decomposed variance in empathic accuracy into thought, target, and perceiver variance. Although past research has frequently focused on variance between perceivers or targets (which assumes individual differences in the ability to understand other people or be understood, respectively), the current study showed that the most substantial variance was found within targets because of differences among thoughts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1040-1046
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • social cognition
  • social perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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