The Power of Empathy: Experimental Evidence of Perspective-Focused Interventions’ Impact on Support for Prison Reform

Berkeley Computational Social Science Forum

CSS Training Program

October 5, 2021
4:00pm to 5:00pm
Virtual Participation


Computational Social Science Forum
Date: Tuesday, October 5, 2021
Time: 4:00-5:00 PM Pacific Time
Location: Virtual Participation – Register to attend via Zoom

The Power of Empathy: Experimental Evidence of Perspective-Focused Interventions’ Impact on Support for Prison Reform

Speaker: Jessie Harney, Berkeley Computational Social Science Fellow and PhD Candidate, Goldman School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley

Abstract: As a result of COVID-19, individuals have experienced situations that may help them relate to others, including more limited ability to interact with their environment. Thus, this survey experiment (N = 2,229) tests whether perspective-focused interventions can help increase support for prison reform. Findings suggest that perspective-getting (providing the perspective of an incarcerated individual via a narrative description of dealing with confinement) increased self-reported support for prison reform initiatives, compared to information only. Additionally, a perspective-taking prompt – nudging participants to put themselves in the shoes of the incarcerated individual when reading their narrative – may help boost intention to take action in support of prison reform. Implications of the current study and future avenues for research, including preliminary results from a second perspective-focused survey experiment in the context of police divestment, will be discussed.

The Computational Social Science Forum is an informal setting for the interdisciplinary exchange of ideas and scholarship at the intersection of social science and data science. Participants engage in a variety of activities such as presentations of work in progress, discussions and critiques of recent papers, introductions to new tools and methods, discussions around ethics, fairness, inequality, and responsible conduct of research, as well as professional development. This Forum is organized as part of the Computational Social Science Training Program, and weekly meetings are hosted by researchers from BIDS and D-Lab. The group welcomes social scientists and researchers with interests in data science methods and tools, and data scientists with applications or interests in public policy, social, behavioral, and health sciences. Participants include graduate students, postdocs, staff, and faculty, and members are encouraged to attend regularly in order to foster community around improving computational social science research, supporting the development and research of group members, and fostering new collaborations. Interested UC Berkeley community members are invited to use this registration form to receive the schedule and access links. Please contact for more information or if you are interested in presenting current research for an upcoming session.


Jessie Harney

PhD Candidate, Goldman School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley

Jessie Harney is a PhD candidate and Graduate Student Researcher at the Goldman School of Public Policy. Her research interests are in criminal justice system reform with a specific focus on mental health and improving outcomes for those whose lives are impacted by the carceral system. She holds degrees in Psychology (BS) from Truman State University, Biostatistics (MS) from Washington University in St. Louis, and Public Policy (MPP) from the University of California, Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy.